Among the 28 rookies who earned promotions to the PGA Tour for the new season, all share similar tales of grit and determination on their way to the game’s biggest stage.
None, however, has made it in quite the manner of Erik Barnes.
Barnes will make his rookie debut this week in the Fortinet Championship, the tour’s 2022-23 opener in the final wraparound season, at Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif. The PGA Tour is where he has envisioned himself since boyhood in Indiana, but the view certainly had been obscured in recent years.
Barnes, 34, earned the promotion by finishing 15th in the regular-season standings on the Korn Ferry Tour. It was his 12th year as an aspiring professional, including the past seven seasons on the PGA Tour’s top developmental circuit following minor-league stops on the Canada and Latinoamérica tours plus the NGA Hooters and West Florida circuits.
His rookie colleagues in the field this week in Napa no doubt can relate to the journey, but Barnes made it after a most unusual detour: through the aisles at his local grocery.
During the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020, with the PGA Tour having shut down all of its tours indefinitely, Barnes found himself suddenly unemployed. Because he had only conditional status on the KFT at the time, he did not qualify for the PGA Tour’s player stipend for fully exempt members.
“When they canceled for COVID, it didn’t take long to figure out, this is how much we pay a month in bills, and this is how much money we have,” said Barnes, who graduated from Austin Peay State in 2011 with a degree in business management. “It’s simple math, and you figure out how long you can survive on it. And I just didn’t know how long. There was so much uncertainty, there was so much that we didn’t know, and the tour couldn’t tell you because they didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know if it was going to last a month or a year. I just had to be proactive and make sure, being that it’s my responsibility to provide for my family as the bread winner, that we didn’t go broke.”
So, he took a job at a Publix supermarket near his home in Palmetto, Fla., stocking shelves before sunup and trying to keep his game sharp with a few hours or more of practice later in the day – all while being a husband to wife Ashleigh and father to their boys, Jaxton, now 8, and Tucker, 4.
In a video clip posted to Twitter, a bleary-eyed Barnes lost track of the hour but not the task at hand while surrounded by empty pallets as he pronounced himself “about finished” and urged his followers to “enjoy your sleep.”
Barnes also took stock of his game during what would become a three-month break from competition and returned with a renewed purpose. He posted seven top-25 finishes in 13 starts for the rest of 2020 while regaining fully exempt status for the continuation of what tour officials made a combined 2020-21 season.
In 2022, Barnes posted two top-five results in his first three KFT starts and made 14 consecutive cuts as he locked up a PGA Tour promotion by early June via the points list. He finished with 18 made cuts in 23 starts, including 11 top-25 finishes, and qualified for the U.S. Open. He ranked 10th in driving distance, with a 319.6-yard average, and was among the tour leaders in birdie average (12th), scoring (14th), putts per round (20th) and scrambling (23rd). That combination of power and feel works on any tour.
Though he hasn’t won in 174 career starts on the Korn Ferry Tour and feared becoming what he called “a lifer” in golf’s version of Triple-A, Barnes proved himself to be a consistent contender.
“It’s kind of sunk in finally, and it’s back to business. If I can just focus on my golf and the things that I do well, then I don’t see any reason why I can’t have success there.”
“This year was just a continuance of what I’ve kind of done the last two years,” said Barnes, who relocated his family to Birmingham, Ala., in the past year.
With the tour’s new Earnings Assurance Program as part of commissioner Jay Monahan’s sweeping changes to counter the LIV Golf threat, Barnes and the other rookies and returnees from the KFT will get a $500,000 nest egg from which to try to clear their next career hurdle: keeping their cards.
“It’s cool knowing that they’re going to give basically a league minimum for the players out on tour, and as a rookie you can elect to take that up front,” Barnes said. “That’s really exciting. Granted, that means I don’t make a dime until I get over the half-million mark, but it is nice knowing that maybe I won’t have to stress out about spending five grand a week when I’ve already got that money to spend.”
A tour official confirmed to GGP that those payments would be made this week.
If Barnes can play this fall with the sort of consistency that got him to golf’s biggest stage, he could be in position to stick it out on the PGA Tour. He certainly doesn’t intend to be stocking shelves again any time soon.
“It’s kind of sunk in finally, and it’s back to business,” Barnes said. “If I can just focus on my golf and the things that I do well, then I don’t see any reason why I can’t have success there.”
He and the PGA Tour’s new faces will get that chance, beginning Thursday.