Now that Philip Barbaree has left Baton Rouge and turned pro on the PGA Tour, LSU’s men’s golf squad is left with a leadership hole. The roster has many young faces and untapped potential, but who stands out to replace Barbaree?
Barber, native of Stuart, Florida, is the man for the job. He has produced several low scores for the Tigers in his three years in Baton Rouge. He capped off his fall season with two top-20 finishes and one top-10. He is a silent leader on the course. He is not loud and showy, but collected and cool.
He envisions walking up to the first tee wearing purple and gold, Metallica Sandman blaring and spectators there watching as the team tries to recreate its championship run in 2015. The squad begins the spring portion of its schedule on Friday in Gainesville, Florida.
Barbaree, only a year older than Barber, was at LSU for the duration of Barber’s collegiate experience. During these three years they have spent together, their relationship has strengthened.
At one point in the interview Barber said, “Everyone on the team is my brother.”
“[Barbaree] had been there the whole time I have been here,” Barber said. “He was always someone to look up to. Obviously a great player, and a good person to go to. He was always there for the team.”
Filling Barbaree’s vacancy with Barber is an easy switch phonetically, and Barber added that it does not seem too big of a task.
“Trey [Winstead] and I have to pick up slack; Phillip was a leader,” Barber said. “[Replacing Barbaree is] not too much of a burden; we need to do what we do every day and show the team they have someone in their corner.”
Barber recalls how he came to truly love the game through learning from one of the best instructors the industry has to offer, Martin Hall out of Florida. Hall also has a relationship with Coach Winstead.
“Being with [Hall] since I was six, before he was on the Golf Channel, was awesome,” Barber said. “Hall is a great influence; he is someone to always look up to.”
Prior to learning how to adjust his ball fight and pick-up speed with steel sticks, he first learned how to swing with plastic clubs and balls. This is not unique for the game of golf; LSU women’s golfer, Ingrid Lindblad, learned from hitting thousands of tennis balls. For Barber, he started at a young age with his father.
“I started playing when I was little, probably five or six, just banging around balls,” Barber said. “I haven’t really stopped since, haven’t really wanted to stop. I have enjoyed the competition, enjoyed always trying to get better. I just love it, I’m not really sure how to say it.”
On the slim chance that Barber is not sharpening his golf skills during the pandemic, he has found connection with the team through playing video games like Call of Duty, where they can interact while social distancing over microphones.
In addition to Call of Duty, Barber finds that he spends a lot of time in the gym - a major focus Winstead has instilled in the golf program since he started in 2005. This concept has revolutionized the sport of golf; recently, tour player Bryson Dechambeau has tacked on 40 plus lbs. during the pandemic to gain a competitive edge. This originally started with Tiger Woods, who was one of the earlier players to experiment with lifting weights. Winstead hopes his players are mentally and physically better than the rest off the field.
“We still have the early morning workouts, but working out with different strength coaches has really helped me."
Now in his junior year, Barber has transformed into proper fitting of a professional golfer. He aspires to continue playing golf after college.
A large portion of his success with Winstead comes from lowering his stroke average. Barber finished his freshman season with a 73.42 stroke average, finished his sophomore season with a 71.43 stroke average and concluded the fall portion of his junior season with a 71.19 stroke average. That’s a difference of 2.23 strokes per round.
This is massive. It is the difference between first and second place. It is equivalent to a point-guard drilling 2.23 more points per game.
“Get a little better every day,” Barber said. “It is a good day as long as you’re getting better - you’re probably not getting any worse.”
Winstead, over the course of the past 15 seasons, has lowered the team’s scoring average by more than 10 strokes. In his inaugural 2005 season, the Tigers averaged 295.6 strokes per round. Now, that average is closer to 285.
Many nationally-acclaimed golf publications, like Golf Digest, have also recognized Winstead’s instructional prowess as one of the nation’s top golf teachers. He has appeared on Golf Channel, most recently as a featured guest on “School of Golf” with Martin Hall, who still works with Barber when needed.
Barber receives exceptional coaching advice from Winstead and Hall, but that advice is also supplemented at home in Florida.
Barber exhibits the same laid-back vibes you would expect from a wave rider, and that translates well on the course. Growing up in Florida, Barber and his twin sister, Claire, were both athletes at their high school. Claire ran track and field, and Garrett played golf. Now, his sister attends school in Colorado and is a ski patrol.
“Family is really important to me,” Barber said. “We all are pretty close. They have supported me through everything. I wouldn’t be where I am now without them. No idea where I’d be without them.”
Golf and skiing are quite the opposite at first glance, but step back and invert the colors on a ski slope to green and white for the course, and it is not that different. Both sports demand immense amounts of physical ability, that is a given. However, the parallel strikes that both are individual sports, the most important muscle is between the ears.
“Golf is a cool sport,” Barber said. “I get to play with different people from all over. It is a good environment for competition and sportsmanship. It has taught me many life lessons, especially how to handle the ups and downs.”