Southern Nevada native Craig Barlow went seriously low on Sunday at the 2023 U.S. Senior Open and the dividends of the performance could keep paying off for a lifetime. Among the benefits of his T14 finish is official exempt status into the 2024 U.S. Senior Open, which was one of his goals prior to the final round of a magical week. –By Brian Hurlburt, www.lasvegasgolfinsider.com
Barlow opened the final round in 38th position, but that didn’t stop him from visualizing a strong finish, even if that finish was tainted by a “horrible” range session prior to the round. It got so bad that he cut his practice short because his poor swings were battering his confidence. But he stepped to the first tee, pounded a drive and birdied the hole. He went on to fire one of the lowest rounds of the tournament, a 4-under par 67 to rocket up the leaderboard and earn $62,932 for his efforts.
“My whole goal going into Sunday was I knew I wasn’t going to win, but I also knew that a top 15 finish and ties earns an exemption into the next year’s U.S. Senior Open,” Barlow said. “When I signed my scorecard after the round, I was tied for 15th and I ended up tied for 14th. I am more happy about that than I am the tournament, even though it was such a special week. I tell people all the time how much I love playing in these things, and next year’s tournament is at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island, which is one of my favorite golf courses. I played in the U.S. Amateur there and it is where the very first U.S. Open was held in 1895. That course is golf history and I get to play in a U.S. Senior Open there. I am so excited.”
Being back playing under the spotlight and against the best senior golfers in the world reminded Barlow about how tantalizing playing the game can be.
“To execute a golf shot under severe pressure in front of people is a drug,” Barlow said. “I can’t describe to you in words how much of an adrenaline rush that gives you.”
Barlow took time out of his hectic schedule during the Open to send a texts, photos and video to this writer, so members of the Southern Nevada Golf Association and all Vegas Golf/Barlow fans could enjoy the week with him. Heading into the tournament, Barlow said another goal was to “enjoy the journey” more than anything else, something he didn’t do as much of when he was playing on the PGA Tour and making 170 cuts.
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Barlow was the 1994 Southern Nevada Golf Association Player of the Year and also qualified for the the U.S. Open that year. It was a pivotal time for his career. Now, nearly three decades later, he is still playing at a high level. His performance and finish at the Senior Open will hopefully allow him the opportunity to play on the PGA Tour Champions several times a year.
Barlow overcame early jitters, but by the end of the week he felt like he was just out there playing the game he loves.
“I thought about how well I was playing on Sunday a couple times, but I was very comfortable and it just felt like I was playing just another round of golf and not necessarily a good round in a major,” Barlow said. “My adrenaline and nerves the first couple days were very apparent to me, but I got more comfortable each day. And Sunday, even though my stomach was churning, I felt very alert and I was just engaged in the moment. I knew I was playing well and I knew it was the last day of a major, but instead of thinking ‘I’m playing in a US open’, I just played, and I felt like I was right where I was supposed to be.
“I know I belong out here and I know I can compete at this level. I played with Bob Estes on Sunday, who I played with on the PGA Tour throughout my whole career, and he said, ‘Craig, you belong out here.’ I know I belong and I want to play a little bit out here, but my life dictates that I be at home. I also don’t miss the grind, Right now, I have five blisters on my feet, my legs feel like they are going to fall off and my back hurts. Playing the golf is a blast; it’s all the things that go on behind closed doors that are why I don’t want to play full time. But this week has definitely proven to me that I want to dabble and play a few events a year if I can. I think this finish and my overall status is going to open some doors for me.”
Barlow is the director of instruction at the High Performance Golf Institute at Reflection Bay at Lake Las Vegas and his son, Riley, has special needs. There are a variety of factors at play as he ponders the future.
However, the week that was will always provide memories that will last a lifetime.
“I got to see a lot of the people that I competed against when I was playing for a living who I hadn’t seen for a longtime and USGA runs a special event,” Barlow said. “I haven’t played in The Masters, so I can’t say how well it is run, but from my experience, the USGA is the tops. When I think about, ‘What is the perfectly run golf tournament?’ It would be a USGA event. It feels like it’s a privilege just to play, let alone play well.
“Also, I just want to thank everyone for all of the support. Keeping everyone informed was something I really wanted to do. I wanted people here in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada to experience something that I was very fortunate to experience. I wanted to let Vegas feel involved in a big tournament.”
Among the sponsors Barlow represented on his hat and shirt were Carvalho & Associates, The Wealth Consulting Group, Reflection Bay Golf Club, Dr. Patti and Associates, and Travis Mathew.
Barlow is available for lessons as is former PGA Tour player and U.S. Senior Open participant Jeff Gallagher. Visit HPGI for more info.