Aberdeen, Scotland – After a few minutes hitting wedges on the makeshift practice range at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club Friday morning, Blayne Barber stripped off all of his upper layers of clothing until it was just his bare skin against the raw elements.
No, Barber wasn’t feeling the heat as a first-time member of the USA Walker Cup Team and one of the last three players chosen for the 43rd Match against Great Britain & Ireland.
“I just don’t like feeling constricted,” the Florida native said as he quickly re-donned a golf shirt and light jacket but discarded a team-issued thermal undershirt. “I want to have the right feel with my golf swing.”
Friday’s final preparations for the two-day biennial competition, which begins at 9 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT) with foursomes (alternate-shot) matches, included a 10-ball U.S. pairing, as all 10 Americans played the first hole on the Balgownie Links before splitting off into two fivesomes. It was a metaphor for the kind of attitude that the 21-year-old Barber carries into the weekend.
He feels pressure, but no more than the next man on the USA squad. His efforts mean no more or less than anyone else.
“I’m just glad to be on the team and ready to help us try to win,” says Barber, of Lake City, Fla., who at No. 51 is the second-lowest ranked amateur (Nathan Smith is 108th) on the team according to the World Amateur Golf Ranking supported by the USGA and The R&A, the two golf organizations who conduct the Walker Cup.
“We’re all just trying to get as many points as we can and win as a team. This is all about a team competition. We’re all just trying to get the win for the USA.”
A junior at Auburn, Barber isn’t totally new to international team golf competition, having gone 2-1-1 at the Palmer Cup in June to help a team of American college stars to a 13-11 win over Europe at The Stanwich Club in Greenwich, Conn.
But the Walker Cup is a different deal, and it’s something Barber admits he’s been pointing towards. He might have been one of the last men in, but it might be difficult to find a player who wanted to be here at Royal Aberdeen more than the second-team All-American.
“It was very exciting to have been selected,” says Barber, whose accomplishments include winning the 2009 Florida State Amateur by nine strokes at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. “Obviously, when you are among the last picks and you’re waiting, it’s a relief when you do get that call. It’s been my goal for the last two years. I’m just honored to be on this team with nine other guys. It’s a great group, and we’re ready to play some golf.”
Barber, who transferred to Auburn from the University of Central Florida, has been quoted as saying he thought his chances of making the team “were done” after he lost in the first round of match play at last month’s U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills, in Wisconsin. But he’s had a dozen top-10 finishes in the last two years in amateur events, including fifth at the 2011 Southern Amateur.
He led Auburn with a 70.91 scoring average last season, which ranks second on the school’s all-time list.
“Everybody on this team deserves to be here and has earned this over the last two years,” says Nathan Smith, a three-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion who was a member of the victorious 2009 USA Team. “We have 10 great guys. Blayne has done it all, he’s played Palmer Cup, and we’re excited that he was chosen to be on this team.”
A semifinalist for the Hogan Award, which takes into account a player’s collegiate and amateur record for a year, Barber nonetheless had not had experience with links golf until this week. But he said he’s enjoyed the challenge of hitting different shots and figuring out the nuances of this brand of the ancient game.
“I’ve learned a lot and a lot about my game and about what works and what doesn’t work, picking the right shot for what you want the ball to do. You have to be cognizant of where to play the ball and stuff like that,” Barber said with a grin. “I like it. It’s been fun. It’s a lot of fun just being able to hang with these guys and experiencing this different type of golf and weather and everything. And it’s been a good cultural experience, too.”
Maybe by Sunday, he’ll also have the experience of a Walker Cup win.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose material has previously appeared on USGA websites