Two days later, Barron finished with three clutch putts at Fairhaven to qualify for the Senior British Open The day he turned 50 was the final practice round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, where Barron and Dicky Pride took 20 pounds off Joe Durant and Scott Parel. The week ended with Barron closing with a 67 in the rain while playing with Colin Montgomerie to tie for fifth.
He made $72,960, his largest paycheck in 13 years. And the most memorable part of an unforgettable week was after it ended. Barron walked into the locker room and saw Tom Watson, who had just concluded 45 years of competing in the British Open and Senior British Open.
"He told me, 'Good playing today,' and it brought tears to my eyes," Barron said. "He was my hero growing up." Golf has not always been this good to Barron. Ten years ago, he became a footnote in PGA Tour history as the first player suspended under the Anti-Doping Policy. Oddly enough, Barron was loving life at the Senior British Open the same week as a World Golf Championship at the TPC Southwind in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.
It was at the TPC Southwind where he played his final PGA Tour event on a sponsor exemption in 2009 and was randomly selected for drug testing. Barron had been on beta blockers since a mitral valve prolapse as a teenager. In 2006, doctors found his testosterone level to be that of an 80-year-old man, and he began taking a steroid to get his levels normal. Golf began drug testing in 2008, and Barron was denied a therapeutic use exemption. He was so miserable for eight months that he took one injection three weeks before playing in Memphis. The drug test came back positive.
Instead of appealing, he sued. The case was resolved out of court. Barron was never competitive when he returned, mainly because of five shoulder surgeries. His last full year on the developmental circuit was in 2012, and then he effectively fired himself. Enough of tour life. He had missed too much time at home and wasn't going anywhere.
He became a medical rep for British-based Smith & Nephew, but that wasn't for him. "I quit right after I passed corporate training," Barron said with a laugh. Instead, he asked a longtime friend to take a chance on him giving golf lessons at Windyke Country Club. He taught for six years when another opportunity came up in the credit card processing business.
That allowed him to play more golf, and that's when he hooked up with Shaun Webb at the David Toms 265 Golf Academy in Shreveport, Louisiana. "He was struggling with his swing," Webb said. "He went from zero confidence in the driver to now driving the ball as good as he ever has."
And it showed. Barron began posting scores in the low 60s. He won three times on the Emerald Coast Tour. Against bigger fields with younger kids, he could make the cut but little more. He wanted to feel nervous. Some of the Emerald Coast Tour events had 40 players. He could handle that, even if his biggest paycheck for winning was $8,000.
"I wanted to play where I could win," he said. But it got him to thinking: Why not the PGA Tour Champions? Just his luck, he turned 50 the day before the Senior British Open. "I talked to my wife, and she said to go for it," Barron said. "My wife has been my biggest supporter. She's an artist, the true talent. She makes a great living and she enjoys it. I didn't enjoy the PGA Tour. I took myself too seriously back then."
This was different. His father is in a hospice suffering from dementia and Parkinson's disease. His oldest son is headed off to college. Barron has a new outlook on golf, a newfound confidence in his game and a better chance playing against guys his own age than on mini-tours loaded with powerful young talent.
"He has a ton of belief in himself," Webb said. "He told me, 'I think I'm ready, I'm going to compete.' I said, 'I think you are, too.'" Barron headed to England on a whim and wound up on television — his name on the leaderboard, shots he hit on the golf course.
"I enjoyed the hell out of my week," he said. Barron didn't get much more than a nice check, though. Even after a tie for fifth in a major — four shots behind Bernhard Langer — he has to go through pre-qualifying before he can enter Monday qualifying for the Dick's Sporting Goods Open in two weeks.
He has written for a sponsor's exemption, and there are five more tournaments after that. Barron wrote a Facebook post that included his picture with Watson and words that summed up a feeling he wouldn't have thought possible in golf 10 years ago.
"I can't think of a better week in my life."
More AP golf: https://apnews.com/apf-Golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports