Kurtis Barkley

Kurtis Barkley (Photo: Scott MacLeod)

Getting The Most Out of His Game

Kurtis Barkley (Photo: Scott MacLeod)
Kurtis Barkley (Photo: Scott MacLeod)

His golfing record is impeccable.  Back to back Upper Canada Opens, four Morrisburg Opens in a row, seven straight Cedar Glen Club Championships, and most impressive – never having lost an Ottawa Valley Golf Association Intersectional Match.  Oh, there was one tie in that litany of inter-club play, but the opponent had to chip in on the last hole to earn a halved match.

It’s a resume that most golfers would long to possess but it belongs to just one man, Kurtis Barkley of Williamsburg.

Living in a small community and travelling in the relatively anonymous golf circles of the Seaway Valley has meant a quiet existence for Barkley.  He has flown under the radar, so to speak.  That changed a few years back when he decided to put a little more pressure on his skills and begin playing in the Ottawa area.  The result?  No big wins as of yet but he has knocked on the door at tournaments like the OVGA City & District Championship and the former Ottawa Citizen Championship.

Up until now only the most avid of golf follower in the Ottawa Valley were aware of Barkley, in fact Kurtis says he has literally stood by as other competitors have asked aloud “Does anybody know who this Barkley guy is?”

The answer is simple – not many do, but they are finding out in a hurry.

“The first year playing in Ottawa tournaments was an eye-opener,” says Kurtis.  “It’s wasn’t just a handful of players that were good, they all were, but that’s why I wanted to start playing in them.”

With a solid driving and iron game, Barkley says the Ottawa area courses push him to learn new shots, especially around the greens.  Coming from a simpler course, he never had the opportunity to practice on larger, more undulating, and well-bunkered putting surfaces, but he is gradually making the adjustment.  “I have to take a lot of those shots as they come but it’s getting better.  I’ve learned a lot about taking one shot at a time and not to think your tournament is over because of one bad one.”

At just five feet tall Barkley is not your typical image of a golfing prodigy.  He does not overwhelm you with a lot of athleticism and a golf swing of awe-inspiring purity.  That’s just not him.  But when it comes down to having a low score on the card – he gets your attention.

Fellow golfer Lance Lepage first met Kurtis a half dozen years ago as a competitor.  He shares his early impressions and how he views his friend.  “His reputation preceded him, I had heard that he was a very good player and he certainly lived up to that billing. The best way I can describe Kurtis would be as determined, and this holds true both on and off the golf course. He is extremely focused on the golf course, and when you tee it up with him, he’s there to beat you no doubt about it. He’s also a great sportsman and I really enjoy playing with him when I get the chance. He’s not just there to play his best, but he also pushes his playing partners to be better as well. Kurtis is determined to play golf at a higher level and I have no doubt he will achieve his goals in the near future.”

What makes Barkley even more remarkable is that he has become a top level amateur golfer despite physical challenges that few other golfers will ever face.

When he was born twenty-five years ago, to Kathy and Rick Barkley, he was abnormally small in size and they were told he might not survive.  Tests revealed that he had severe Scoliosis with seven of his vertebrae fused together. Other skeletal issues in his torso caused breathing issues and also shortened his upper body.

It was not a very positive diagnosis but the younger Barkley has made the most of it, even when that meant spending a huge part of his youth enduring visits and test at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.  Unable to take on more physical sports like his brother he looked to golf to sooth his competitive spirit at an early age.

“What I have always enjoyed about golf is not only competing but trying to get better,” Barkley tells me on a Fall day when his golf clubs have been put aside in favour of a hunting rifle.  “It doesn’t matter what you shoot in golf, there is always something you could have done better.  It’s a game (where) you can never stop improving. When I go out and play golf I’m just like anybody else.”

Kurtis has been playing that out since about the age of three, when he says he first remembers having a golf club in his hand.  At first his “golf” amounted to hitting the ball around in the yard and maybe breaking a window or two in the process.

With Father Rick, a fine player in his own right and a former teaching pro, providing guidance to the fledgling young player, his talents emerged rapidly.  “Watching my dad play, and winning trophies and all that, it encouraged me to think that I could do that.  Having him as a teacher, and making my clubs as well, I had it pretty made.  I had my own driving range and seeing my dad play well motivated me to try and keep up with him.”

By age six made his way from the yard to the golf course, and a family move to Australia provided a longer season where Kurtis could really prosper.  Today, back living in Canada for many years, cold temperatures are his enemy.  While other players simply throw on another layer of clothing the coolness of early tee-times mean Kurtis has to stretch longer to make his body fell free enough to make a good motion.  “It’s not something other players have to think about but it’s what I have to deal with everyday.”

That said Kurtis is the last to use his back as an excuse.  When asked about the state of his game he points to the mental side of things, and not the physical, as his current barrier.  “I know I can play; I’ve played well.  It’s more of getting it done and going low to stay with the big guys.”

That’s not to say he cannot go low, a course record of 65 last year at Upper Canada Golf Club is testament to that.

That course will be in his sights in 2013 as it hosts The Great Waterway Classic, an event on the PGA Tour Canada.  Barkley narrowly missed qualifying for the tournament last year and he will be eager to try again. “It’s one of my top priorities for next year.”

Playing full-time as a professional is a lofty dream for anybody and Barkley is realistic when asked about it.  “I really don’t know when my time will be over because of my back.  It’s not getting better.  I just take it year by year.  Just to play in one pro event would be fine. To have our family name in a pro tournament would be amazing.”

Judging by his record, his skills, and his determination, only a fool would bet against Kurtis Barkley making that happen.

In the meantime, expect to see his name on a few more golf trophies in Eastern Ontario in the years ahead.

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