PGA TOUR Veteran Craig Barlow Earns Return to the Big Dance With Win at ArrowCreek
By Stewart Moore
Reno, NV – Longtime PGA and Web.com Tour member Craig Barlow of Henderson, NV entered Thursday’s final round of the ArrowCreek Open knowing he needed a low round to have any shot at the tournament title, and more importantly, an exemption into the Reno-Tahoe Open set for the end of this month at nearby Montreux Golf & Country Club. Twelve birdies over 19 holes of golf proved to be more than enough for the affable Nevada native, who notched his first eGolf win with a birdie on the first playoff hole, and punched his ticket for a return trip to his favorite PGA TOUR event.
The final round at ArrowCreek’s scenic Legends Course began with James Erkenbeck of San Diego, CA and Brian Vranesh of Phoenix, AZ tied for the overnight lead at 11-under 133.
Through nine holes of play, it was the 36-year-old Vranesh setting the pace with a roller-coaster-like 34 on his outward nine, courtesy of three birdies, three bogeys and an eagle at the par-5 ninth to reach 13-under for the week.
From there, the tournament outcome morphed into a veritable guessing game.
First to strike were final-round playing partners Barlow and Tyler Raber of El Macero, CA.
Thursday’s 9:00 AM twosome posted two of the more bizarre rounds in eGolf’s 13-year history. And that is possibly an understatement.
Barlow, just a few weeks removed from competing in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, birdied four of his first six holes to race out to 4-under par and 11-under for the week following opening rounds of 69-68—137. But as soon as the red numbers took effect, they vanished, as an errant tee shot on the par-4 seventh gave way to a rally-killing triple-bogey.
“I hit it in the desert, had to take an unplayable, and just chunked my next shot. It was an explosion,” said Barlow, who three-putted for triple when he finally reached the green. “But, I honestly don’t feel like it affected anything. I may have thought it was going to hurt my chances of winning, but I was also trying to work on my game today so I just kept plugging along.”
Barlow rallied soon thereafter, erasing his lone scorecard blemish with birdies on Nos. 9, 10 and 11 to return to 11-under par.
“The bounce-back was huge. Obviously nine was a par-5 that a lot of guys were going to birdie, but I knew that was still a good nine holes,” said Barlow of his 2-under 34. “I really wasn’t thinking too far forward after that.”
The eight-time major championship participant birdied the par-5 14th to reach 12-under par, then finished his day in torrid fashion, closing with birdies on 16, 17 and 18 to polish off a final-round 64 and a 15-under 201 total in the clubhouse.
Barlow’s finish wasn’t even the most impressive in his own pairing. That honor went to Raber, who birdied the 13th, eagled the 14th, bogeyed the 15th, birdied the 16th, then holed his tee shot on the par-4 17th for an unlikely double-eagle that vaulted him into the temporary lead at 15-under par outright.
With the tee box up nearly 40 yards on the uphill par-4, Raber laced a 3-wood and watched with his caddie as the ball bounded onto the green and smacked the pin.
“We heard it hit the pin. We couldn’t see it, but we looked at each other and said, ‘That hit the pin,’” said Raber. “We looked all around the green before finally looking in the hole, and there it was. It was the craziest thing ever. My first hole-in-one or double-eagle in a tournament, so I guess I killed two birds with one stone.”
Raber got up and down for par on the 18th, joining Barlow in the clubhouse at 15-under par. The red-number duo combined to shoot 60 on the back nine, and matched 64s for the day.
In the day’s penultimate twosome, eGolf West winner Ryan Dillon of Desert Hills, AZ was doing his best to avoid a playoff, posting birdies on 13, 14 and 17 to reach 15-under par with one hole to play.
Needing a birdie at the last to set a 16-under mark in the house, and likely claim his second win of the year, Dillon could only muster a par, in turn finishing the day with a 6-under 66 and a seat alongside Barlow and Raber at 15-under 201.
While birdies flew on the back nine, Vranesh stalled, birdieing the par-4 10th to reach 14-under par, but failing to record another birdie on the day before bogeying the last to finish at 13-under for the week.
Erkenbeck, who sat one back of Vranesh with nine to play, birdied 14 and 16 to get to 14-under par, but three-putted the last from 15 feet to settle for a closing bogey and a 13-under-par effort.
“To be honest, I was thrilled just to have the opportunity to be in the playoff,” said Barlow. “I back-doored my way into the playoff, whereas sometimes it’s a disappointment to be there depending on how you finished.”
The savvy veteran joined Raber and Dillon on the tee of the par-4 10th for the overtime session, with each player finding the fairway on the short-but-watery hole.
With a pitching wedge in hand, Barlow took dead aim at the tricky hole location, flagging his second shot to 4 inches from the hole before the ball trickled back to 8 feet below the cup.
Raber and Dillon both hit their approaches to 18 feet, and both missed their birdie tries, setting up a make-and-go-home putt for Barlow. At age 41 – nearly twice as old as a few players in the field – Barlow converted, draining his uphill birdie putt for the win, the $14,000 first-place prize, and a return trip to the Reno-Tahoe Open.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. It was a crazy day. I had no idea what it was going to take to win when we started,” he said. “I learned a long time ago that you never give up, but I never expected anything to go the way it went today.”
A 10-year PGA TOUR veteran and former Web.com Tour member, the win puts Barlow back on the stage he loved so much for a decade, and at one of his favorite venues.
“The Reno-Tahoe Open is one of my favorite tournaments,” said Barlow, who estimates he’s played the event a dozen times in his career. “For me to have the opportunity to return to that tournament, especially after not playing last year – it’s just very special.”
Barlow still has veteran member status on the PGA TOUR, thanks to the fact that he has amassed over 150 starts on golf’s biggest stage. But he’s also the first to admit that his game had seen better days prior to recent work with Butch Harmon Golf School instructor Vic Wilk.
“I’ve had a tough last couple of years. I played on TOUR for 10 years, then Web.com, then my game just kind of went away,” Barlow said. “I dedicated myself to fixing my swing. Winning something like this for me is huge, I know I can play great, but I’ve had a lot of baggage mentally upstairs from bad play.”
Golf’s developmental tours are littered with players who have been there, done that, and are often the first to tell young guns about the ways the world works. For Barlow, the opportunity to work his way back up is a welcome one, whether it is on eGolf West, the eGolf Tour, or a driving range in Las Vegas.
“This is a huge, huge point in my career right now. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have said the same thing,” he said. “I feel like my game, this year, has gotten better every month. That’s all you can ask for.”
Raber and Dillon each earned $7,438 for their matching T2 finishes.
The runner-up marked third top-10 in six starts on eGolf West this year, and his second in a row dating back to a T7 at last month’s Championship at Oak Valley.
For Dillon, the playoff marked his second straight loss in overtime on eGolf West after losing to Jesse Mueller on the third extra hole in that same event at Oak Valley.
Erkenbeck and Vranesh finished in a tie for fourth at 13-under 203, two shots outside of the playoff. Both players earned $4,750 for the week.
• eGolf would like to thank ArrowCreek C.C. head golf professional Jeremy Budge and his staff for their help in making this event such a success. The golf course was in fantastic shape this week, with some of the year’s best putting surfaces. Golf course superintendent Michael Donahue and his crew are to be commended for their tireless efforts throughout the week. The exemption into the Reno-Tahoe Open would not have been possible without Chase Stigall from the Eldorado Casino Resort. Thank you to Chase and his team for providing a wonderful host hotel for the week, and for offering the tour a possible life-changing spot in one of the PGA TOUR’s premier events.
• The eGolf Tour will host the 10th annual Southern Open next week at The Club at Irish Creek in Kannapolis, NC on July 9-12. eGolf Tour West will conclude it’s inaugural season with the Championship at Wolf Creek in Eden, UT on July 9-11.