When he was growing up in British Columbia, Chris Baryla’s focus was on baseball and hockey. Golf was barely a blip on his sports radar screen.
At age 15, that changed. Golf moved to the forefront and he began to play competitively. Still, he was far behind those who had been playing the game for years. But Baryla was determined not only to improve, but to compete with the best.
Baryla, now a junior at Texas El-Paso, certainly accomplished that Feb. 4 at the Ping/Arizona Intercollegiate. By shooting 68-66-69 for a 10-under-par 203 total, Baryla topped a field that included preseason first-team All-Americans Chris Nallen of Arizona, Bill Haas of Wake Forest, Nick Watney of Fresno State, 2002 U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes of Arizona and 2001 U.S. Public Links winner Chez Reavie of Arizona State.
“This was by far the best I’ve played over an entire tournament,” said Baryla, who won his first college title last spring at New Mexico State’s Herb Wimberly Collegiate Classic.
“But what makes it so special and so satisfying is beating this field of players. I think I showed that I can compete against the top-level players, and this should no doubt give me a big boost of confidence for the rest of the spring.”
The next week, Baryla won again, capturing the Anteater Invitational in Newport Beach, Calif., by three strokes with a 3-under 213 total.
Not bad for a player who, as a Canadian junior, would have taken a scholarship to just about any U.S. college – as long as it was in a place with warm weather.
Although he was a member of the Canadian National junior team, had a couple of top 10s in American Junior Golf Association events and finished second to Ty Tryon in the 2000 Doug Sanders International Junior, his late start kept him from gaining a great deal of attention from U.S. college coaches. He did, however, catch the eye of UTEP coach Rick Todd, who also is Canadian.
“He offered me a scholarship, and it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for,” said Baryla, who is No. 85 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. “I really liked Coach Todd, and El Paso has some good weather.
“I can’t say enough about how much Coach Todd has helped me improve my game.”