Tacoma’s Derek Barron has cried the tears from a difficult, unconventional path in golf.
But on Monday, that road cleared out.
It now leads to the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.
Barron was the only golfer in the 70-man field at the U.S. Open sectional qualifying tournament to card two rounds in the 60s — a 66 and 69 — to clinch medalist honors at Tacoma Country and Golf Club in Lakewood.
His 7-under 135 total was tops by five strokes over Jordan Niebrugge and Max Greyserman, both of whom are also headed to the national open.
Barron shot a 66 in the morning round, then recorded an eagle-3 on the par-5 11th hole to suddenly grab a five-shot lead — and put hismelf in the driver’s seat to earn a spot at his first U.S. Open.
The 32-year-old Tacoma Firs teaching professional made a couple of bogeys at Nos. 13 and 14, but hit a 9-iron at the 15th hole, a par 3 over water, in front of the hole, and sank the 12-foot putt for a final birdie.
“Nothing really got out of control out there,” said Greg Talley, the head professional at Fircrest Golf Club where Barron plays. He was also Barron’s caddie on Monday.
“He never panicked, and just stayed in the zone.”
The panicking over golf came earlier in Barron’s life.
Up until his junior year at Emerald Ridge High School, Barron played baseball, just like his father, Tony, a former big-league outfielder.
It was his father who convinced Barron to play a nine-hole round of golf as a 17-year-old. He liked it. And he played it for one season in high school.
Because of his late start in golf, he was not on any college’s radar. He worked out with the men’s team at Green River Community College, but his work schedule was too inflexible to take it too seriously.
He was married two years after graduating from Emerald Ridge, and took on a series of odd jobs: He worked at his grandfather’s hydraulics business in Auburn. He was a bank courier in downtown Seattle for Bank of America. He unloaded bundles of Christmas gifts and candy at a Kent warehouse. He worked at an REI distribution center. He took on small construction jobs in Tacoma. And he was a member of the greens crew at Oakbrook Golf and Country Club in Lakewood.
But in his free time, Barron could be found at Tacoma Firs, sending drives from the stall over the fence at the driving range.
And that is when some of the best instructors in town, notably Todd Erwin and Tony Robydek, began noticing his boundless talent.
“They offered their time for me, and my dream,” Barron said. “They kept telling me, ‘You are good enough, and you are going to be good enough, so just keep going.’
“Golf beats you up. I’ve felt so sad after some golf things, because it’s meant so much to me.”
Barron kept improving. Finally, he broke for his first win as an amateur at the 2010 Puget Sound Amateur at Lake Spanaway Golf Course.
A year later, he turned professional — and got perhaps the biggest break in his career when he met a local businessman, who has sponsored his budding career.
And last spring, Barron earned a full-time gig on his first professional tour — the Mackenzie Tour, formerly known as the Canadian Tour. He had his debut there last weekend, tying for 18th in his first tournament.
“I know people think I have that (every-man quality), because for a while when I was going through all of this, I did not have a real appreciation for what I was doing, and how I was doing it,” Barron said. “But I am a grinder. If I can make 100 bucks somehow, it means something to me. And what I’ve accomplished, I had to work hard for it. I did it all here — at a driving range.”