The LSU men’s golf team had made the turn toward the back nine of its 2019-20 season when the coronavirus pandemic cancelled three regular-season tournaments.
Not only did it erase postseason hopes that included an NCAA regional on LSU’s home course, but it also changed the projected PGA Tour career path of senior golfer Philip Barbaree.
“I feel like my whole life was to get on the PGA tour and to try and pursue professional golf,” he said. “I was ready to go. I was ready to get out there and try to kind of earn my place after college.”
Barbaree, a Shreveport native who arrived at LSU in 2016 as one of the nation’s top signees, decided to put his dreams of a professional career on hold. He said he’ll return and compete with the Tigers for a fifth season, taking advantage of the NCAA ruling awarding 2019 senior athletes in spring sports an additional year of eligibility.
“When the coronavirus halted things, it made me take a step back and re-evaluate,” Barbaree said. “Originally, I would have gone to (PGA tour) qualifying school in the fall on the Korn Ferry Tour). My whole plan was changed. I decided if there was no qualifying school, I would only be able to do small tournaments for a whole year.
“The main thing in coming back was having so many more opportunities. Rather than staying at home and not sure what I would be doing for the next year, it kind of puts some structure to it and plus there’s some rewards if I play good.”
There’s additional incentive for all college seniors at the end of next season with the advent of PGA Tour University where the nation’s top five ranked senior players automatically qualify for the Korn Ferry tour, Barbaree said. The next group ranked between six through 15 would qualify to play on tours in Canada, the Latin America and China.
Barbaree, who has the fourth best stroke average (72.24) in school history, posted his second consecutive sub-72 stroke average this past season where he was just nudged by Garrett Barber (71.43-71.81) for the team lead.
Barbaree opened what he believed to be his final season, recording three consecutive Top 5 finishes.
He tied for third at the Maui Jim Intercollegiate with a three-round total 9-under 201, was fourth at the Inverness Intercollegiate with a 1-over 214 and wound up in a tie for fifth during his ‘homecoming’ when LSU captured the David Toms Intercollegiate at Southern Trace in Shreveport.
Barbaree, whose family lives on the Southern Trace course, compiled an 11-under 205, but finished behind victorious teammates Hayden White and Trey Winstead (17-under 199) and third-place Barber (15-under 201).
He did enjoy a highlight, though, in his return to his home course with a college career best 7-under 65 in the opening round.
“I looked forward to hopefully winning it,” he said. “Growing up there, I expected to play well. What I thought was my last year was kind of special going back to my home course and hometown to play a tournament. I’m glad we got to do it.”
Barbaree enjoyed three more Top 10 finishes, giving him six over the seven tournaments he participated. He wound sharing the team lead for rounds played with 21 (tying Barber and Michael Sanders) and pushing his career total to 116 with 100 of those counting toward his team’s scoring.
He also wound up with 70 birdies and a team-best three eagles.
“Overall, I felt like I played pretty well and kept improving,” he said. “During the quarantine, I’ve kept improving which is nice. I stayed in shape, doing workouts. Nothing’s really changed. That’s all I’ve been able to do. I feel like my game’s better than it was at the start of quarantine. I feel like coming back I’m ready to go and continue to lower the scoring average and help my team some more.”
With three tournaments left in the regular season, Barbaree appeared headed toward the end of a career in which he twice earned Ping Southeast All-Region honors. The SEC Championship was scheduled April 22-26 and LSU was to serve as host May 18-20 of an NCAA regional at University Club.
The primary destination, had Barbaree’s plans remained on target, would have been the Korn Ferry tour. It’s a developmental tour for players who either haven’t qualified to play on the PGA tour or have done so and failed to accumulate enough FedEx Cup points to remain at that level.
Barbaree said PGA tour hopefuls must register three Top 20 finishes during the Korn Ferry tour to advance to a final qualifying tournament to gain their PGA tour card.
Even though the Korn Ferry tour resumed June 8-14 and will have its tour championship on Aug. 24-30, Barbaree remains committed to returning to LSU and as the lone senior of the 2020-21 team, being the team’s primary leader.
Barbaree said fellow senior Drew Gonzales with attend graduate school at Vanderbilt and won’t return to LSU.
“I feel like last year we were pretty young; we didn’t necessarily play our best like we’re accustomed to,” Barbaree said. “We have four (new) guys coming in next year and I’ll be back. We’ve got some new talent and I feel like the young guys from last year will continue to improve. We have a chance to be right there when it comes time for SEC and NCAAs.
“I’ll be the old guy again. The young guys are always looking to see what the old guys are doing. We always have that opportunity to be that influence to show them the ropes and what to do and what not to do. They’re always watching. It reinforces that everything I do kind of matters. The chance to be that role model or influence next year means a lot and I don’t take that lightly.”