August 4, 2007–Las Vegas golfer Craig Barlow, who plays out of Reflection Bay Golf Club, one of the best golf courses in Las Vegas, is battling back from more injuries–this time wrist troubles–but is a guy who will never give up, no matter what the situation is. This year he has missed about four months due to injury, but he is working his way back and hopes a strong finish will secure his playing privileges for 2008. Read on for a look at how he made it this far, and what fuels his desire. Barlow is one of about two dozen Las Vegas golfers who have exempt status on the LPGA, PGA or Champions tours.
This year is his 10th on the PGA Tour, but getting to the height of his chosen profession was a struggle. What he learned on his journey can help and inspire anyone. Barlow grew up playing many of the oldest golf courses in Las Vegas including Black Mountain Golf and Country Club, a semi-private facility where his Dad is still a member. Through his first nine events of 2007, Barlow had earned only about $64,000 and stood 207th on the money list. IN 2006, Barlow had his best money finish by winning more than one million dollars for the first time, and finishing 93rd on the money list.
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If there was ever someone in the world who should’ve given up or quit, it probably is Barlow. Barlow, who grew up in Henderson, Nev., a suburb of Las Vegas, was as good a tennis player—or better—than a golfer growing up. He didn’t have much of a golf record, had no prestigious college golf scholarship (not even any non-prestigious) offers lined up after graduation, and him becoming an exempt member of the PGA Tour was about as likely to happen as a hole-in-one on a 225-yard, par 3.
In fact, the only certainty Barlow had after high school was the challenge of determining what the hell to do with his life. He spent some time at a small college in California, delivered pizzas, worked for the local PGA Tour event and played golf, struggling all the while with what direction he should pursue.
Fortunately, he met a woman named Leann (she later became his beautiful wife) who helped him make a life-changing decision. After he qualified for the U.S. Open as an amateur, and had some decent success in local amateur golf events, she told him to take a risk, and give professional golf a try. If he didn’t, she reasoned, he would regret it for the rest of his life.
A few years after that fateful decision, Barlow was up to his knickers in credit card debt, and was wondering exactly how he was going to be paying his bills from month to month. That was in 1997 when he was on the mini-tour circuit. To top everything, he wasn’t even playing well at the lowest levels of professional golf so all signs pointed back to Vegas. At least delivering pizza pies would guarantee him some money.
But 10 years later, Barlow’s name is smack dab in the middle of the PGA Tour’s money list. He earned just over a million dollars in 2006, and more than $4 million during his career. Suffice it to say, he doesn’t worry about his bills anymore.
So what separates Barlow’s story from the other guys looking to make it on the PGA Tour? Or, to put it into business terms, one successful person from someone who doesn’t become successful in life or business?
“In one word, desire,” Barlow says from his home during a break in his playing schedule. “You have to want it. I’m not sure if it’s something that can be taught or if some people are just born with it, but you have to have a burning desire to succeed.”
Barlow’s desire must burn white hot because success wasn’t even guaranteed when he finally made the PGA Tour. To earn playing privileges, most players must go through a grueling six-day qualifying tournament and finish in the top 30—give or take a few spots depending on the year–of the couple hundred players who tee it up. Barlow failed in his first two attempts, and lost thousands of dollars in entry fees in the process, before finishing 26th in 1997.
He had finally qualified for the PGA Tour, but unfortunately he played badly that first year. It was back to Q School and his future in golf was again in limbo. But amazingly, he secured exempt status again with a 17th place finish.
In 1999, he finished 124th on the money list (the top 125 keep their cards), but then lost his playing privileges again in 2000. Again, he made it through Q school. He then finished 122nd, 124th and 100th on the money list over the next three seasons, always needing a late season “miracle” to keep his exempt status. But in 2004, injuries plagued him and he missed his card again. Even though he had some medical exemptions into tournaments the next year, he went back to Q School and qualified for the fourth time.
Most players who experience Q School call it the most stressful golf experience of their lives. Successfully getting through it four times is a stunning golf accomplishment, and only someone with nerves of steel and deep desire could withstand the pressure. During those six days, one bad shot—out of about 400 that are played during the week–can send a player packing their bags, and their future down the toilet.
“You have to try and improve every year,” says Barlow. “If someday I don’t think I am improving and my best isn’t good enough, then I’m done. If you aren’t always improving—whether it be in golf, business or life—then you’re probably not achieving very much.”
Setting reachable goals has been a cornerstone in Barlow’s career, but he also keeps an eye on the bigger picture. “It would be easy for me to say my goals are to make the Ryder Cup team or win a major championship and be number one on the money list,” says Barlow. “But then if those things don’t happen, I feel like a failure. End goals happen because a lot of little goals were reached along the way. I get frustrated when I look too far ahead and I feel like I am not making progress.
“You also have to be very patient, and be prepared for a long road, and understand there will be ups and downs. There aren’t many people who are instant success stories in golf or in business.”
Portions of the article originally ran in the publication, IN Business Las Vegas.