When Chris Baryla walked in the clubhouse after firing a course record 11-under 61 in the second round at PGA Tour Q-school to take a one-stroke lead, he was welcomed with praise and some even applauded. “I was thinking, If Andres (Gonzales) can shoot 62 at Bayonet (in the second stage), I can shoot 61 at (the Crooked Cat course at Orange County National),” said Baryla with a wide smile as Andres gave him a congratulatory handshake.
Joked Gonzales, “So, how was it out there?”
“Pretty stressful,” Baryla replied laughing as he took a seat at the table for lunch. “I shoot 61 every round I play — at some point.”
“Tiger Woods in his prime couldn’t beat that 61,” said a half-joking Michael Putnam, who earned his PGA Tour card by finishing in the top-25 on the money list but is trying to improve his status.
The 28-year-old Canadian already has status on the PGA Tour next season under a major medical exemption for a hip injury that sidelined him for the majority of the year. Baryla earned his 2010 card by finishing in the top-25 on the 2009 Nationwide Tour money list. But he played with intense back pain during the first few months of the 2010 season, making only two cuts in seven starts. In March doctors discovered Baryla’s back injury was actually a hip affliction, which required surgery.
“I didn’t hit balls for 4 1/2 months,” said Baryla, who was able to practice again in late-August. “I rehabbed for five hours a day, seven days a week.”
Guaranteed a spot in 15 tournaments, Baryla has a safety net, but he entered Q-school to improve his status — “I’m here for ‘greedy status,’” he quipped.
Baryla’s caddie Derek Mason called the record-setting round “pretty straight.” What did Baryla’s scorecard look like? He didn’t have any eagles, 2s or 5s, lots of 3s and a few 4s.
His effort is even more impressive considering the difficult windy and cold conditions on Thursday morning.
“It was really windy, but I got off to a good start,” said Baryla. “And then I had some two-putt birdies, which takes pressure off. I always want to make more birdies, but on a day like today, they just came easier. It’s still the same mind frame.
“I’m crediting it all to my caddie and the cup of coffee I grabbed on the way to the tee. I was cold. Then, my caddie gave me some mitts with hand warmers in them.”
With four more rounds to play in the 108-hole marathon, Baryla still has a long ways to go. But shooting 61 in difficult conditions under Q-school stress has greater implications.
“It’s a nice validation,” said Baryla. “As simple as the surgery was, it’s complicated — you never know what’s going to happen in life. I’ve lost some strength, but I’m gaining it back.”
And most importantly, he’s playing golf pain free.