SPORTS: Barnes driven to the top, chosen boys golf MVP

PORT ANGELES — Joe Barnes won’t be a two-year wonder.

Barnes, the ace of the Port Angeles High School boys golf program the past two seasons despite first picking up a club just two years ago, plans to make golf a life-long career.

An elbow injury that stopped Barnes’ baseball career dead in its tracks two years ago not only changed the direction of his athletic career but also the direction of his life.

Before the right-elbow injury Barnes was a standout three-sport athlete — the quarterback on the football team in fall, a basketball player in winter and a baseball athlete in spring.

After the injury, the right-handed Barnes couldn’t throw the football any more and switched to running back in football, but his baseball career was over.

So he went looking for a new spring sport.

“I didn’t want to pick a sport that I would be average at, but a sport where I could be pretty good,” Barnes said.

He chose well.

A life-time endeavor

After Barnes picked up a golf club for the first time to discover he’s a natural for the game, he has since realized that he won’t be putting that club back down any time soon.

“I believe that through hard work anything can happen,” he said.

That anything for golf meant that the inexperienced Barnes was more than just a member of the Roughrider varsity team; he became the best player.

Longtime Port Angeles High School boys golf coach Mark Mitrovich was impressed how quickly Barnes picked up the difficult sport.

“Joe’s just a talented athlete,” Mitrovich said.

“He picked the game up quickly. He’s a mature young man. Overly mature for his age.

“He sets goals and goes out and does whatever it takes to get them done.”

The first-year golfer in 2012 went out and took the Olympic League by storm, winning the conference MVP award with the best nine-hole average of the season, and then he tied for sixth place at the 2A state tournament.

Barnes pretty much duplicated that fete the second year, winning league MVP honors with a best average of 38.4 for nine holes, and then capturing 15th place at state in May.

He also was voted the boys golf All-Peninsula MVP for the second consecutive year.

Not bad for one of the most inexperienced golfers on the course in any given meet or tournament.

The senior athlete also was medalist in six of the Roughriders’ eight meets in 2013, and in addition was the medalist at Chimacum’s Port Ludlow Invitational and at Port Angeles’ own Duke Streeter Invitational.

Barnes also would have tied for first place at the prestigious Tim Higgins Memorial Invitational in Bremerton but he signed an incorrect scorecard and was disqualified.

Barnes had written down six for the 18th hole at Tim Higgins but had double-bogeyed it with a seven.

“That’s a valuable lesson for all of us to learn,” Mitrovich said at the time.

“Joe tried to run down the kid who had his card but he didn’t get to him before the card was turned in.”

Once the score is turned in, it’s an automatic disqualification if the score is wrong, Mitrovich said.

“You need to verify the score before the card is turned in. Joe felt really bad about it.”

It’s one of those things the youthful golfer has learned the hard way despite his meteoric rise in the sport.

Another thing he has learned is how difficult it is to play golf.

“No other sport can test your integrity, your character and mental strength than golf,” Barnes said.

“In football, basketball and baseball, you have teammates who can back you up if you make a mistake.

“In golf, if you make one mistake, it can affect your whole tournament.”

That mental aspect came up at the 2013 state meet.

Barnes opened the tourney with high hopes after claiming sixth the year before.

But he finished nine places and six strokes worse than he did in 2012.

“It was very disappointing,” Barnes said about state. “I had two very bad days.”

At one point on the second day, he had to shoot backwards 50 yards from on top of a hill because he had no other shot.

“That’s how the entire day went,” he said. “It was a mental game after that.”

Ironically, Barnes was all-world during his two state practice rounds.

“If I would have scored what I did during practice, I would have finished very high at state,” he said.

It was not a surprising way to end the season since Barnes struggled at times during a season-long slump despite coming out on top at so many meets and tournaments.

“I’m playing well now and I played well before the season but overall I was slumping during the season,” he said.

That can be expected, Mitrovich said.

“You can’t play at a high level all the time,” the Port Angeles coach said.

Still, most high school golfers would take Barnes’ slumping scores and bask in the sun with them.

But that’s not Barnes’ style.

“He’s a very talented and determined young man,” Mitrovich said about his top player of the past two years.

“He will be quite a success at whatever he decides to do.”

Barnes has already decided that he will make golf his life-long career, and that he will make his mark in it.

Barnes is headed to Walla Walla Community College on a golf scholarship to play on its prestigious golf team and earn a two-year degree in golf business management and/or golf grounds management.

The powerhouse men’s golf team won the NWAACC Eastern Region championship in 2012 and was the NWAACC champion five times, most recently in 2008.

Barnes won’t be lonely for the North Olympic Peninsula because his Walla Walla roommates will be ex-Sequim High School golf star Ryan O’Mera and ex-Port Townsend High School golf standout Cody Piper.

Like Barnes, both O’Mera and Piper performed well at the high school championship tournaments.

“I’m really excited about going to Walla Walla,” Barnes said.

“Everybody on the team is good, and it will provide me with higher levels of competition, bigger tournaments and bigger pressure.

“Every little bit in that way will help.”

Walla Walla wasn’t Barnes’ only college option.

He received offers from several other colleges such as Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., and Whitman College in Walla Walla.

But Barnes chose Walla Walla mainly because of academics.

“Walla Walla is No. 4 in the nation in academics,” Barnes said.

Academics is everything to Barnes.

“I hold myself to a higher academic standard than athletics,” he said.

That shows in Barnes’ grade-point average of 3.6, which includes both his high school courses combined with his Running Start college program he took at Peninsula College.

After he earns his two-year golf degree at Walla Walla, Barnes will finish his college career at either Washington State or the University of Idaho.

“Idaho has an excellent program on the golf business side while WSU has an excellent [golf] turf management program,” Barnes said.

Barnes will make his decision on what four-year school to attend after he gets a taste of both aspects of golf in his Walla Walla courses.

The Roughrider athletic and academic standout did not get to where he is by himself, he said.

“I thank my coach Mark Mitrovich, Peninsula Golf Club head pro Chris Repass, Dwayne Johnson [Port Angeles athletic director], my mom and dad {Lisa and Joe Barnes] and my grandmother [Betty Barnes] for supporting me and helping me,” Barnes said.

That gratitude doesn’t surprise Mitrovich a bit.

“Joe is always courteous to other players, to other coaches, adults and tournament officials,” Mitrovich said.

“He stands out as a great person in that way. He’s just a nice all-around kid.”

And as competitive as they come. He will beat your socks off if you don’t train as hard as he does, and very few people do.

There’s little doubt that no matter what aspect of golf Barnes chooses to pursue, business or grounds management, he will be at the top of his game.

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