Wherever Tacoma golfer Derek Barron has walked on the grounds of Erin Hills this week, he’s done it with the big grin of a U.S. Open first-timer.
Coming off the practice range, or walking in between greens and tee shots, Barron has filled every kids’ request for autographs with a side dish of friendly chit-chat.
When former Masters champion Adam Scott accidentally bumped him in the back at the smoothie line in the players’ hospitality tent Wednesday, and apologized – Barron gave him a nice pat on the shoulder.
And he’s strolled the fairways for practice rounds with a few of the biggest names of the sport, including former British Open winner Stewart Cink and long-hitting Belgian Thomas Pieters, who was one of the European stars at the Ryder Cup last October.
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It’s been a dream week so far, the 32-year-old says.
Except for one thing: He couldn’t share it with his best friend, who tragically died in a car accident in 2015.
Barron called Taylor Ferris his “twin” – and why wouldn’t he since the two golf professionals were born 18 days apart?
“The first time I met Taylor was in the WJGA (Washington Junior Golf Association) ranks,” Barron said. “I was barely eligible because I was about to turn 18. But I remember seeing him, and saying, ‘That dude is good.’ He had such a good golf swing.”
Ferris graduated from Life Christian Academy in 2003, and was about to go off to Boise State University.
“I would see him come up to the (driving) range while I was working,” Barron said. “He then came home (from Boise State), got into the Pacific Northwest Section and started working at Allenmore.”
Ferris had turned professional while Barron, an Emerald Ridge High School graduate, was a rising talent on the local amateur scene.
They began rooming together on the road for tournaments, and that is when they became the best of friends.
“We are identical – same jokes, same (clothing) style,” Barron said. “We both loved golf, too. We both had dreams, you know, of doing it big.”
They were inseparable. Back in 2009, when The News Tribune put together a video preview on Chambers Bay for the upcoming U.S. Amateur, Ferris gave the pro’s perspective, and Barron assessed the layout from the amateur’s view.
In 2011, Barron turned professional. Both had long-term sights on making it on a tour somewhere.
“We often asked each other. ‘How sick would it be if we both made the same (PGA Tour) event, or started traveling to big tournaments together?’ We imagined it all,” Barron said. “I’d never had a best friend like him.”
And then, all of a sudden, it was gone.
The day before Ferris was supposed to turn 30 – April 17, 2015 - he was driving near downtown Tacoma when he suffered a medical seizure.
Unable to control his SUV, Ferris’ car took a drastic turn, crashed through a chain-link fence and fell 100 feet off the Tacoma Avenue Bridge onto the railroad tracks, killing him instantly.
At the time, Barron was playing in a tournament at Wine Valley Golf Club in Walla Walla. When he got back to his hotel room, Ferris’ mother, Deanie, got a hold of him on his phone to break the news.
“It’s not very often you see a friend of yours cry and stuff like that,” said Todd Erwin, Barron’s longtime swing instructor who was also in Walla Walla that weekend. “It hit him pretty hard.”
At Deanie’s request, Barron finished the Wine Valley Pro-Am. He won, taking home $1,200.
Two months later, Barron tried qualifying for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, but missed out at the Columbus, Ohio site.
Oddly enough, when it came to qualifying for this week’s U.S. Open, the local site he attended was Wine Valley where he placed second to Aaron Wise.
And when he won the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Tacoma Country and Golf Club two weeks ago, one of the first people Barron called was Deanie Ferris.
“He’s obviously matured a lot – in a lot of different ways,” Erwin said. “(Taylor Ferris’ tragedy) surely impacted him. There has been a mission he’s been on since that time to carry the quasi-torch for him and Taylor.”
Barron said there isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t think of his late friend. And this week at the U.S. Open, he feels like he has a special angel on his shoulder for guidance.
“Oh yeah, I know he is here, big time,” Barron said. “And all of the stuff here is great. But it doesn’t matter compared to what happened. I’d give up golf forever to bring Taylor back. It was like losing family.”