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Playing through the pandemic: Derek Bayley has golf game in order, but coronavirus limits summer options

Derek Bayley took home all the hardware after winning the 2018 Rosauers Open,  July 15, 2018, at Indian Canyon Golf Course. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Derek Bayley took home all the hardware after winning the 2018 Rosauers Open, July 15, 2018, at Indian Canyon Golf Course. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Derek Bayley was grateful to play professional golf during the coronavirus pandemic. It allowed him to work on his game, particularly addressing recurrent issues with his driver.

The former Washington State Cougar is playing some of his finest golf, but the virus’s widespread impact on the sport has left Bayley contemplating the next step in his career, like many grinding on tours other than the PGA.

Bayley stayed active in recent few months on the Outlaw Tour in the Phoenix area while many states shuttered courses and residents were under stay-home orders.

“I think at one point the only tours still playing were the Outlaw and the Cactus (women’s tour, also in the Phoenix area),” said Bayley, a product of Lakeland High in Rathdrum. “I was pretty fortunate to be in Arizona practicing and playing in those events and for that to be a region that didn’t shut down.”

Bayley had a nice run on the Outlaw Tour, pocketing $10,640 in 10 events. He ranked fourth on the money list. He had eight top-10 finishes and shot scores in the 60s in 20 of 25 rounds, including a 9-under-par 61 at Arizona Golf Resort in Mesa. His highest score was a 72.

He also played in two Golden State Tour events in Arizona, earning $1,505 with an 11th-place finish.

Arizona courses implemented numerous safety measures, including one rider per cart, no rakes and the flag stick stays in place. The cup is filled with foam within an inch of the lip for easy ball retrieval. Players have the option if they’re in a bunker to lift, clean and replace their ball after smoothing out the sand with their foot.

Bayley turned pro in March 2019, and split time last season between the PGA Latinoamerica Tour and Canada’s Mackenzie Tour. Both tours are shut down with events postponed at least until August.

Bayley played in the Latinoamerica Q school in January. He was in good position to earn his card at 7 under through 36 holes, but a longtime nemesis resurfaced late in the second round.

On the 17th hole, he snap-hooked his tee shot and did the same thing on two provisional balls. He found his first inbounds, hit the green and made an unlikely birdie, but he struggled to shake off those errant drives despite shooting a 6-under 66.

“The back story is I haven’t driven it the best the last couple years and it’s something I’ve been working on. It’s half on the mental side, half on the physical side,” Bayley said. “Something about that stretch I kind of lost it, and it came back to what had been going on the last year or two.”

Bayley didn’t sleep well that night and wasn’t in the right frame of mind for the third round, even after phoning several close friends.

“I hit the ball 85 times,” he said of the third round.

That doomed his chances of playing on the LatinoAmerica Tour. He was planning on Mackenzie Tour Q school in April, but it was postponed.

Bayley went to Arizona to try to stay sharp competitively but more important to recover confidence in his driver. He did both, stringing together quality scores and high finishes.

“I started to grind and played in everything I could trying to get rid of it (driving problems),” Bayley said. “I started hitting it great, especially off the tee.”

His worst finish was a tie for 16th, but he shot 9 under for 54 holes. He finished fifth in his last three Outlaw events.

Bayley has returned to North Idaho with temperatures regularly above 90 degrees in Phoenix. He has signed up for two tournaments next month in the Reno, Nevada, area and the first two Dakotas Tour events in July.

Brady Calkins, a former Community Colleges of Spokane player, was the Dakotas Tour Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019 while earning roughly $145,000.

Bayley hopes for a crack at qualifying for the Mackenzie Tour, but it’s up in the air if it will be rescheduled. He decided against returning to Phoenix for a few more Outlaw tournaments.

No matter what direction Bayley travels, his confidence level should be high for the next challenge.

“I had a pretty big obstacle I had to work to get over,” he said. “Golf is a funny game, it throws things at you good and bad. You can never be too good at golf. I like to tell myself that, sometimes when I’m playing very good and it seems almost easy.”

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