Ricky Barnes hasn’t played a full schedule on the PGA Tour since the 2017-18 season and is therefore struggling to build any kind of momentum in his golf game. Which explains why he had recorded three rounds in the 60s this season and hasn’t made the cut in five of the six events in which he has gained entry to the field.
Get to four rounds after a five-under-66 opening Thursday at the John Deere Classic, which is his lowest round this year and his lowest score to start a tournament since the 2020 Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship. It’s no exaggeration to say that his name is a surprise entry on the leaderboard at TPC Deere Run.
“Yeah, it’s nice to get into some tournaments with everything going on in golf,” said Barnes, 41, alluding to the upheaval in the game due to the new LIV Golf Series. “I started to practice a little bit more because I know that I will probably participate in the next three tournaments or the next three out of four.”
Barnes is out of the veteran membership category after losing his card in 2018 and hasn’t competed in more than 13 events since then. The former US amateur champion put together a round of seven birdies against two bogeys after hitting 10 fairways and 14 greens in regulation time, areas that have been weaknesses in previous starts.
“I feel like I drive the ball pretty well and I can score,” he said. “So I just have to swing and trust like I did today. That was the main thing.”
Barnes has been busy working in real estate at the same time. Or perhaps, due to the lack of openings, golf is now secondary. But he is keen to play some more events ahead of the upcoming Scottish Open and Overseas Open Championships. That’s what he meant by spending some extra time on the shooting range.
“I just haven’t had the rhythm,” said Barnes, who has been on the tour since 2009 but has yet to win. time on that too. But like I said, knowing that I had summer, some events coming up and seeing the schedule clear up and other tournaments going on, I was practicing a little bit more and trying to keep my body healthy. It’s good to be back here.
Here are some other takeaways from the opening round in Silvis, Ill.
Speaking of finding a groove, JT Poston is hot.
On the heels of a final-round 64 that moved him into a tie for second at the Travelers Championship, Poston fired an opening nine-under-par 62 to take the early lead. Poston didn’t have a bogey by hitting seven birdies and an eagle on the par-5 second hole. It’s the second week in a row he’s posted 62 on Thursday.
“I think it’s starting to come together and see the results and see the shots and build that confidence back into my ball hitting,” said Poston, 29, who credits working with his swing coach, John McNeely, for his recent increase in recent months.
Poston has three top-10 finishes this season, each the result of a quick finish. He was T-3 at the RBC Heritage with a close of 64, and his T-9 at the Wells Fargo Championship came via a 67 in the final round. He made the most of his good weeks, as he made the cut only nine times in 23 starts.
Ranked 132nd in strokes gained/approaches to the green this season, Poston hit 16 greens in regulation Thursday, the best illustration of his game. And he knows it. “I hit my irons really well and I hit a lot of fairways, so I can attack some of the pins,” he said. I really just hit a lot of greens, which is something I haven’t done in the first part of the year. It’s obviously been the secret, I guess, so I hope it stays that way.”
Talking about the lack of beginnings
If Barnes is suffering from the action, consider Chris Naegel, who made the cut at the US Open, eventually tied for 56th, opening Thursday with a five-under 66 at TPC Deere Run. Not bad, huh. Quite unbelievable, in fact, considering Naegel has no tour status and is playing his second tournament of the year. Counting an abbreviated list of Korn Ferry Tour events, Naegel has played in three tournaments combined on the KFT and PGA Tour.
The 39-year veteran from Missouri entered the John Deere course as one of four Monday qualifiers by shooting a six-under 66 and began his round Thursday with an eagle on the par-5 10th hole en route to a out 30. Although he bogeyed the ninth, his last hole of the day, Naegel couldn’t have been more pleased by the effort in just his sixth start on tour. But he also seemed to take it in stride.
“Yeah, I mean, this is a bonus, so I have nothing to lose. Just go out there and have fun and try to make birdies,” Naegel said. You are playing golf. I don’t know if there is much to be below. That’s how I see it, I guess. Yes, go out and have fun. It’s just golf.”
Bunker no problem…this time
It was more than a little strange to see that among the first-round highlights of the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour website was Sahith Theegala’s birdie on the par-4 13th hole. The eight-foot birdie putt was created by a wave that came out of a fairway bunker.
Remember it was a bunker that got Theegala into trouble on Sunday when he led the Travelers Championship with one hole to play. The Tour rookie needed two to escape a fairway bunker on the 18th and ended up making a double bogey to pave the way for Xander Schauffele’s second win of the season.
One had to wonder if there might be a hangover for the former Pepperdine All-American after the disappointment, and it appears that is the case. Theegala, the top-ranked player in the FedEx Cup standings at TPC Deere Run, battled back to a starting triple of 74.