Calgarian makes PGA debut

TODD SAELHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:41 AM ET

CALGARY — A tough Canuck is no match for a cranky back or a dislocated shoulder.

Just ask Calgary-born Chris Baryla, a survivor — and then some — on the PGA Tour.

With his wing wrapped up tight and a spine that works against him, Baryla continues to shake off injuries in a bid to make his mark in the golf world.

“Look where I grew up,” said Baryla, who spent his formative years as a sports enthusiast in Vernon, B.C. “I’ve got that hockey mentality, right?

“OK … I only played pickup and shinny after I turned 12 because I was terrible.”

But golf is a very different story.

At 27, Baryla has earned his chance to play among the best golfers in the world, making his debut as a regular on the sport’s most decorated circuit.

He’s an everyday PGA player, with the promise of a long career ahead of him — even if his rookie season has been slowed by a rocky start.

“I haven’t played very well yet,” admitted Baryla, who is still shooting to make a cut after five tour starts. “I dislocated my shoulder in the first event (in Hawaii), and it took awhile to get better.”

He bandaged it up and has since played through pain in an effort to get back on track quickly.

Not that a quick recovery is anything new to the University of Texas-El Paso graduate, as proven by his sudden — and somewhat surprising — rise to the PGA stage over the last year.

After a solid season on the Canadian Tour, where he finished runner-up in the 2005 Michelin Morelia Classic in Mexico, Baryla was on track to reach golf’s top loop with strong play on the Nationwide Tour over the next two seasons.

But a medical condition called spinal stenosis put stress on his left leg and lower back, shelving his career indefinitely at the young age of 25.

“Definitely, there was a lot of ambiguity,” said Baryla, of how the condition — which sees the spinal canal narrow and compress the spinal cord and nerves — would affect him long-term.

“I didn’t know if it would be fixable or manageable or if it was chronic and if I’d have to put up with it all my career.”

Careful treatment — and a wise decision to avoid surgery — got him back in the swing of things

13 months later, as he returned to the Nationwide Tour in the spring of 2009.

“I’ve had no problem over the past year,” Baryla said. “And by all accounts, if I take care of myself, it won’t be a problem.”

So far, so good.

After just seven starts in ’08 and the 13-month injury hiatus, Baryla returned to terrific form, opening with a fourth-place finish in the Nationwide’s Rex Hospital Open on May 31, 2009.

In 14 total Nationwide tournaments last year, he took home money from 13 of them and put together five top-10 finishes, including a US$90,000 win in the Chattanooga Classic in October.

“I played well much quicker than I expected,” Baryla said.

“I was playing well and was in good shape.”

That’s quite the understatement for a golfer sidelined for more than a year by a career-threatening condition.

Baryla’s quick turnaround set him on a swift rise to PGA status. His win in Chattanooga, Tenn., vaulted him to No. 20 on the Nationwide money list — up from No. 57 and into a coveted spot. The top-25 cash earners of the Nationwide season gain exempt status for the PGA Tour the following year.

Two more top-five finishes followed for Baryla, including a tie for fifth in the Nationwide Tour Players Cup in West Virginia in June.

Then, he rounded out the year with two seventh-place finishes, including one in the Nationwide Tour Championship in South Carolina in October, to secure his card for the PGA circuit with $217,680 in earnings and a No. 19 overall finish.

And here he is today, teeing off with the likes of legends Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson and heeding the advice of fellow Canadians Mike Weir and Stephen Ames.

“Both Mike and Steve are good about playing practice rounds with myself and (fellow Canadian and PGA rookie) Graham DeLaet,” Baryla said. “We’re fortunate to have them as resources. If I’ve got a question, they’ll answer it from their experiences.”

But perhaps Baryla’s own adventures provide him with the best knowledge for the future.

After all, he’s been ravaged by injury but has persevered to make himself a potential PGA fixture — and in such a short time-frame.

“Out of college (in ’04), I had a good trajectory over the next three years,” said Baryla, who earned his management degree while starring as a Western Athletic Conference player of the year for the UTEP

Miners golf team under coach and former Canadian Tour winner Rick Todd.

“But, then, the injury made it tough.”

Prior to his rookie season, Baryla played in only three PGA events. Included was the ’09 RBC Canadian Open, in which he finished tied for eighth place with Ames with a surprising 12-under total.

It seems just a matter of when — and not if — the young Canuck will rise again to such occasion — and higher.

“My goal is to work hard. My goal is to be fit. My goal is to be in a good frame of mind all the time,” Baryla said. “There’s so much you can’t control, so I try to set goals that are more tangible rather than saying, ‘My goal is to finish in the Top 25.’

“If you do the things you need to do and stay prepared and show up at game-time, the rest takes care of itself.”


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