Philip Barbaree fights back to win U.S. Junior Amateur crown

Philip Barbaree fights back to win U.S. Junior Amateur crown

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Philip Barbaree fights back to win U.S. Junior Amateur crown

BLUFFTON, S.C. – Before he took the podium to accept the U.S. Junior Amateur trophy, Philip Barbaree took out his phone and glanced at his text messages.

He had 122 of them. By the time he sat down for interviews some 30 minutes later, that number had grown to 155.

Among the messages was one from Barbaree’s swing coach, Cameron McCormick, who had just watched his third pupil win the U.S. Junior (Will Zalatoris won the 2014 title and Jordan Spieth, now winner of two major championships, won twice, in 2009 and ’11).

The message read: “You delivered my man. You delivered on belief, on work ethic, on skills and on determination. Hugely proud of who you are as a person and player!”

Belief. Work ethic. Determination. Those adjectives described Barbaree perfectly Saturday at Colleton River Plantation Club as the Shreveport, La., native matched the largest comeback in U.S. Junior history. Down five holes with eight to play, Barbaree rallied to defeat Andrew Orischak of nearby Hilton Head Island, S.C., in 37 holes, the longest match since the championship went to 36 holes in 2005.

“To comeback from 5 down, I didn’t really expect it, I was just grinding and trying to get some momentum and see what would happen,” Barbaree said. “I guess it ended up paying off.”

Barbaree’s winning moment came at the par-4 15th, the first playoff hole. With a crowd pushing 500 people – most of them rooting for the local kid – surrounding the green and nearby area, Barbaree lagged a 3-footer for par (yes, lagged) and was conceded the winning bogey by Orischak.

“Probably the first time I’ve lagged a 3-footer,” Barbaree said. “I’m happy about it, too.”

As the television cameras made their way to Barbaree and he began his live interview with Fox Sports, Barbaree broke down in tears. He had dreamed of this moment, and after playing his final 84 holes in two days thanks to numerous weather delays, it had taken every last ounce of effort to get there.

“I was really tired after the first 18 (holes),” Barbaree said. “I mean, I got four to five hours of sleep last night. To come back out and play … I just had no idea how I would do it.”

Barbaree, who had to wake up early Saturday to finish off Won Jun Lee in the semifinals, took an early advantage on Orischak, leading 3 up through the first 10 holes. However, behind the home-crowd energy, Orischak took control of the match and led 2 up at the lunch break.

By the time both players made the turn in the afternoon, Orischak had built a 5-up lead, the same lead Jim Liu held against Andy Shim after 18 holes of the 2012 U.S. Junior. Barbaree had just eight holes to notch his comeback.

“We looked at each other on 12 tee and said, ‘Let’s turn it around and do this,’ and he kicked it into high gear,” said Barbaree’s caddie, Dan Glover, who picked up Barbaree’s bag at the start of match play. “I believe he has another gear after this. He’s unbelievable. He’s got so much fight in him. There’s just so much talent there. He has one of the best short games I’ve ever seen.

“Even at 5 down he had the determination to come all the way back.”

Coincidentally, it was at the par-4 12th where Orischak felt his swing going away. He pushed his drive right and then left his approach in the hazard. He was able to play it but sent his chip over the green. Barbaree needed to just two-putt to win the hole. Instead, he drained the 20-footer to move back to 3 down.

“It’s one thing to just run it down there,” Barbaree said, “but when you make that putt it really sends more of a message. I knew after that putt I had a really good shot at it. I knew that momentum was changing.”

Barbaree went on to win No. 14. Then he won No. 15. As the players arrived on the tee box at the par-4 18th, Barbaree was 1 down. The closing hole, where he had watched Lee put his approach shot in the hazard earlier in the day, was kind to Barbaree once again.

After Barbaree found the fairway, Orischak stepped up and sent his drive right, finding out of bounds.

“That really opened the door for me and gave me new hope,” Barbaree said.

Orischak conceded the hole, sending the match back to the 15th hole. There, the local kid hit another wayward drive, this time in the left weeds. After Barbaree safely found the green, Orischak caught a flyer and sent his ball back behind the green and onto some dirt.

He got relief from some tire tracks but caught some hanging moss with his third shot. After Barbaree hit his birdie putt to 3 feet and Orischak missed his bogey putt, the match was over.

“Everything was moving real fast in my head and I just needed to slow things down,” Orischak said. “I just got ahead of myself. … That was my biggest downfall, I’m sure. You know, just the whole week I told myself I was just going to hit one shot at a time and just worry about that.

“I thought that the mentally toughest person was going to win, and it wasn’t me because I got ahead of myself. I was thinking about winning before the match was over. Still had golf to be played. That was my biggest detriment.”

Orischak, a Virginia commit and ranked 16th by Golfweek, was disappointed, but he didn’t let heartbreak kill his sense of humor. “Well, I guess this means I’m not going to the prom with Holly,” Orischak quipped during the awards ceremony, referencing a bet he made with Fox Sports reporter Holly Sonders on Friday. Had Orischak won, Sonders would have been his date to next year’s Hilton Head Island High School prom.

Barbaree likely won’t have trouble getting a date to his prom. The LSU commit, ranked sixth by Golfweek, is without question playing the best golf of any junior player in the country. He became the first Louisiana golfer to win the U.S. Junior since Willie Wood in 1977. He is also coming off a record-breaking victory at the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions. He has six other top-20 finishes in ranked events this year, including a T-6 at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.

Barbaree credits a lot of that success to McCormick. He started working with the Dallas-based instructor in 2013 but stopped last year to train closer to home. At the beginning of the year, though, he returned to McCormick, a move that has paid off in a big way.

“He just really helped get to where I am,” Barbaree said. “I mean, at the end of the year last year I didn’t really know what I was doing. He helped me get back on the path where I wanted to go.

“He’s helped me just believe in myself and just be confident. I knew I could do it. I just had to believe in myself.”

Even with the odds stacked against him, Barbaree believed he could win. Now, the talented kid from Shreveport can add “national champion” to his fast-growing list of accomplishments.

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