Despite not qualifying, Derek Barron shows he belongs with PGA Tour players

Puyallup’s Derek Barron could have easily taken the easy road in U.S. Open sectional qualifying.

The logical choise for the professional out of Tacoma Firs Driving Range would have been trying to qualify 100 miles away out of Tumble Creek in Cle Elum - not 2,500 miles away in Columbus, Ohio.

There was a greater purpose that sent Barron across the country - playing against the best players on the PGA Tour.

And while Barron did not earn of the 15 qualifying spots to the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay - a pair of 1-under-par 71s at Lakes Golf Club and Brookside Golf and Country Club left him tied for 41st out of 120 players - he certainly flashed a tour-pro like game.

“It wasn’t just about the U.S. Open,” said Barron, an Emerald Ridge High School graduate who did not play college golf. “I want to play against these guys. I wanted to test myself.”

Most importantly, Barron wanted to experience these moments.

He arrived in town on Saturday and played a practice round at Brookside. The next day, he did the same thing at Lakes.

Then he did something many wouldn’t do on the practice range before his round Monday starting at the Lakes.

“I went up to Steve Stricker and started to talk to him, because I am a huge fan of his. He was super cool,” Barron said. “And after my last round, he came up to me and asked how I did. I told him I shot 71. He said, ‘So did I.’ And I told him he tied a great player.”

Coing to Brookside in the afternoon, Barron knew he had to make birdies to climb near the top 20. And he pulled out driver at the downwind, dogleg-right par-4 13th hole playing 389 yards.

And it went far - very far - stopping pin high on the left side of the green. It led to a birdie.

Minutes later, PGA Tour up and comer Justin Thomas matched Barron’s drive while golfers were on the green.

Thomas came up and apologized, to which Barron responded, “Great minds think alike. I did the same thing.”

Yes, Barron felt that comfortable in his first trip among those top professionals.

The long hitter did not birdie any of the first-nine par-5 holes. He had 190 yards into No. 15, but pulled his 6-iron into the high weeds. He did save par.

“I was hitting the ball pretty good. I dont know if I was trying to be too perfect and stack it to try and make eagle because I needed to pick up as many strokes as I could ... but I made a mental mistake there,” Barron said. “There is a strategy involved in this tournament, but it is still a mini-sprint. It isn’t like a three- or four-day tournament.”

On the next hole, his tee shot at the uphill par 3 went long, leading to bogey - and putting far behind the chasers.

“I am bummed out, and I know people are going to be disappointed,” Barron said. “Thing is, I didn’t choke. I just didn’t play my best. And after playing in this, I would come back here next year. I know I belong.”