Ironing out their games

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 6:57 AM ET

Two years removed from a weekend in which they shared the spotlight on golf's grandest stage, Andy and Ricky Barnes share a chuckle at Redwood Meadows.

Having just completed a practice round in preparation for tomorrow's Alberta Classic Nationwide event, the brothers reflect on their trip to Augusta National, where Ricky made his Masters debut in 2003 alongside reigning champ Tiger Woods.

Finding himself in a third-place tie with Phil Mickelson midway through the event, the 22-year-old U.S. Amateur champ became an overnight fan favourite brought down to earth by a friendly jab from Andy not generally expected from a caddy.

"That guy's probably dumb enough to think he can win this tournament," Andy told the media when asked about his sibling's improbable standing just five strokes behind eventual winner Mike Weir.

Truth is, that's exactly what Ricky was thinking, which is what makes the story all the more humorous when recounted as the brothers chase Monday qualifying spots wherever the Nationwide Tour stops.

"It was funny because he was probably right," laughed Ricky, 24, who sits 71st on the Nationwide money list.

"It's not like I was thinking about anybody else out there -- I was just thinking, 'how can I win this golf tourney?'"

To no one's surprise, a seven-stroke lead over Woods in Round 1 disappeared by Sunday when the colourful University of Arizona star finished 18th to claim low amateur honours and form the basis of his motivation to get back to the PGA Tour.

"That experience was second to none right there," said Ricky, who finished 58th at the 2003 U.S. Open and turned pro only to miss 13 of 15 PGA Tour cuts since.

"To high-five and give your brother a hug out there made it that much more special."

Having failed to advance through PGA Tour qualifying school two years in a row, the 2003 collegiate player of the year has been unable to parlay a long list of sponsors exemptions into full-time status anywhere. Currently 71st on the Nationwide's money list after 13 events with $55,869, his goal is to finish top-70 to ensure weekly spots next year. Until then, the siblings will travel together trying to qualify on Mondays as they did at McKenzie Meadows.

"I'm not mad about being here, I'm more upset about not being here full time," said Ricky, who gets his rugged, 6-1, 200-lb. frame and movie-star good looks from his father, a former punter for the New England Patriots.

"I didn't feel I was that ready to go pro after winning the Amateur and this tour is no slouch -- there are lots of great players here. This is about the sixth time I've played with my brother and it makes it nice to have someone to travel with, eat dinner with and talk to.

"We still live together in Scottsdale so it's like being home."

Andy, another Arizona University Wall of Famer, has struggled more than Ricky, qualifying for just his second showing on the Nationwide Tour this year.

"I've been playing solid golf but not much to show for it," said Andy, 28, whose career highlight was qualifying for the 1999 U.S. Open, where his brother caddied for him.

"It's our dream to be out here together full time, travelling and having lockers together week in and week out. Once you get that little taste of the biggest stage in golf, it makes you want to get back there."

No matter how far away it might be.

"There are still eight events left and you're seeing guys win two weeks in a row here to gain PGA status," said Ricky. "Anything can happen."

The Barnes brothers know that better than anyone.


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