Derek Bayley’s practice plans Monday at Old Greenwood Golf Course were erased by a thunderstorm, a sign that perhaps a rare day off wasn’t so bad after a few busy months.
Bayley and his dad, Mike, who will caddie for him in his PGA Tour debut this week at the Barracuda Championship near Reno, Nevada, checked into their hotel, took care of registration paperwork and tour-mandated COVID-19 tests and grabbed some food.
Then they happened to drive by the Grand Sierra Resort’s lighted driving range.
“It wasn’t the worst idea not to touch a club, but dad and I were driving around and saw the outdoor range and ended up hitting a few balls,” said Bayley, the Rathdrum native who played at Washington State. “Just taking it easy, just trying to stay relaxed.”
That’s one challenge awaiting Bayley as he fulfills a dream of playing in a PGA tournament. He wants to treat it as just another tournament, even though there are reminders everywhere he looks that it’s not.
He saw tour regular Brandon Harkins at the airport luggage carousel Monday and picked his brain on how to approach the days leading up to Thursday’s opening round. (Harkins told him to learn the course but pace himself and have fun.) Bayley saw Alex Noren at a restaurant, looked up his profile and learned he was No. 8 in the world rankings a few years ago.
“As much as I’m going to attempt to make it another week, it’s clearly not,” Bayley said. “But my whole goal for the week is to not only treat it like any other week but get in that same mindset that I’ve had to do the best I can. By Thursday morning, I’d like to get in that mindset that I’d like to win the golf tourney and not be here just to play the weekend or just enjoy myself.”
Bayley’s game and, perhaps more important, mindset have been trending upward this season. It started with quality play on the Outlaw Tour in Arizona before his breakthrough win at the Reno Open in June, which came with a $15,000 check and an exemption into the Barracuda Championship with hotel accommodations taken care of for the week.
He followed that up with three starts and two top 10s on the Dakotas Tour, a return trip home for sister Chelsea’s wedding, coming up one shot short of a playoff in Korn Ferry Monday qualifier and a strong finish at last week’s Colorado Open.
Bayley, 24, has leaned on advice from WSU coach Dustin White and longtime coach Steve Prugh.
“My game is good, I saw progress Sunday (with a 66),” Bayley said. “Most of the work is going to be more mental. Some things I think about is the hole is the same size wherever you play – that old “Hoosiers” analogy (measuring height of the rim). Just have some go-to thoughts to use whenever you think of something negative.”
It’s beneficial that Bayley has experience playing with or against a good portion of the 132-player Barricuda field. The modified Stableford scoring (five points for an eagle, two for a birdie, zero for a par, minus-one for a bogey, minus-three for a double) is the same format as the Reno Open.
“Any competition is enjoyable to me, especially when your kid is playing at a high level like this,” Mike Bayley said. “I’m not going to say I’m surprised, because I’ve watched him since he was 10. Everybody in athletics, you played and played and got to a certain point where it’s, ‘These guys are better than me.’ To this point, Derek hasn’t really come to a place that I feel or he feels, ‘Whoa, I’ve got to my peak.’ ”
Bayley estimated roughly 100 family members and friends would have been on hand to watch the Barracuda, but the course will be without spectators due to COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, Mike will tote Derek’s tour bag that weighs 18.5 pounds without clubs, rain gear, etc., at 6,000-feet elevation while relatives and friends monitor hole-by-hole updates via the PGA Tour website.
“We’ll find out in about an hour and half (during a Tuesday practice round),” Mike cracked of how he’ll handle carrying the bag.
The high elevation will require yardage calculation adjustments in the 10% to 15% range. It didn’t seem to be an issue at the Reno Open when Bayley shot 65-65-63. He rarely plays in tournaments without a rangefinder – they’re not permitted on the PGA Tour – but players receive a nice yardage book and he’s sharp at math.
Bayley will have a short break after the Barricuda Championship. He’s signed up for several Dakotas Tour events, but he has firsthand knowledge that future schedules can change depending on tournament results.
“The final three Dakotas tournaments, some state opens potentially, other than that I haven’t gotten into it,” Bayley said. “A lot depends on this week with the potential and opportunities this week.”
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