Kurt Barnes: Turning Japanese

During the last five years Kurt Barnes has experienced his share of ups and downs as a professional golfer. In his rookie year on the Australian PGA Tour Barnes won the 2004 Queensland PGA Championship and then followed that with a win at the Victorian Open twelve months later. At the time things were on the way up and the transition into the paid ranks had proven a relatively seamless affair. Barnes played his golf like he was living his life, fast and furious. There were no boundaries, just opportunities. As Barnes would later experience these formative years on tour would prove to be a valuable lesson in the vagaries of professional sport, where many an emerging and talented player had fallen to the trappings of the excesses that can be associated with professional sportsman. Luckily for 28-year-old some life changing experiences occurred for Barnes along the way with the birth of his son, Kayden, in 2005 and the realisation that if he'd continue on the way that he was, he was not going to cut it on tour. It would be five more years before the son of a miner from Muswellbrook, three hours north of Sydney, experienced victory again on tour when Barnes claimed the 2009 Sofitel Zhongshan IGC Open in China and in the process won the 2009 China Omega Tour Order of Merit. The five year period before the success in China had been littered with inconsistent results for Barnes. Frustrations were also creeping into his game and Barnes was starting to realise the toughness needed to remain competitive on tour, was just more than pulverising a golf ball around a layout. Barnes' obvious talent had risen intermittently during some events, like his top-10 finish at the 2004 Australian Open after leading the championship for the first round, only then to wander on many occasions as he attempted to forge his living in the professional ranks. The transition to the paid ranks had brought a sobering realisation to Barnes. To survive on tour he needed to implement changes, both on and off the course. Barnes had quietly known that, but he'd been advised by those close to him that it had to happen if he was to continue to be a tour player. "There were times where I new a 64 was on and then times where I would hit it sideways," remarked Barnes earlier this week. "I had a couple of wins early on in my career but I use to like hitting the ball long and if it was on I would hit 64, but if it was off, I would shoot 77." The foundations for a promising professional career were certainly there with another top-10 finish at the Australian Masters in 2007, not to mention the illustrious amateur career which Barnes brought into the professional ranks after winning the 2002 Australian Amateur Championship, the 2003 Riversdale Cup and New Zealand Amateur Stroke Play championship. Missing out after second stage of US Tour School in 2007 represented one of the lowest points in Barnes' career. It also sent another stern message that to make it something had to happen. "I needed to make changes as my consistency on the course was not there. I just knew that I was not going to survive long out there and that I had to make changes to get some breaks." The break Barnes was looking for finally arrived in December 2009, just before the Australian PGA Championships at Coolum. He landed late that week at the Sunshine Coast Airport for the Australian PGA Tour event, a tour that is dear to his heart and one that has and continues to support him well. The sleep deprived Barnes was sporting a huge grin as he strode the Hyatt Regency Coolum's fairways that week. Despite the obvious jet-lag, Barnes looked like a kid that had got all the candy and he was busting to tell everyone about it. Barnes had topped off 2009 with winning the Japanese Tour School the weekend before after fourteen gruelling qualification rounds to setup full playing privileges in Japan for 2010. Barnes was clearly wrapped with the result. "Man I'm stuffed but what a relief to win in Japan," he said to me that week at Coolum. "It's a massive relief and it shows you how all the changes that I've made are brining in the results." In early January 2010, Barnes also earned a place at this year's Open Championship at St Andrews following the Australasian Tour's second and final round of International Final Qualifying at Kingston Heath. "I think knowing that I've got a tour card for Japan also gave me plenty of confidence to do well at the Open qualifier," says Barnes. "It's hard to explain, but once you have that level of confidence knowing that you have a tour to play, your game can change dramatically. It's like a big weight is finally off your shoulders." The desire for consistency of ball striking and to make a living from the game has now replaced the desire the belt the ball into oblivion and party hard at night. Barnes has also matured as a player. Responsibility that goes with being a family man can often do that to a player. With his Japan Tour Card now firmly in his hip pocket and a start in his first Major set for July, the changes Barnes has made have been for the obvious better. He realises this and is appreciative for those that have guided him through the process over the last five years on tour. "That's something my coach Christian Small and I have worked on really hard over the last twelve to eighteen months," says Barnes regarding his new focus. "The consistency is there, where as before it wasn't. I playing a lot smarter and it's starting to pay dividends. Just knowing that I've a full schedule to play this year in Japan is a massive relief and it's something that I'm really looking forward to." The reality of playing in Japan has certainly brought a new lease of life for Barnes. The motivation levels are even higher and Barnes is leaving no stone unturned as he focuses upon the full gambit of his game, both on and off the course. "I'll be working hard with my fitness in the gym and my mental toughness with my life coach, John Novak," says Barnes. "A short term goal would be to win in Japan, as I think that I've the game and capabilities to do that. Also to make a cut at a Major, that would be awesome to make the cut at St Andrews. I've a brilliant opportunity in front of me to move my game to the next level and I'll be strongly focusing on Japan to see if I can do that."

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