“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate doing what I do. I love to teach and play.” Mike Barge, Director of Instruction at Hazeltine and recent inductee into the Minnesota Hall of Fame, has been with us since 1986. He attended the second ever Hall of Fame ceremony, right here at Hazeltine, never dreaming that he would someday find himself at the podium. “I didn’t think of it back then. I was starting my second year here, not even aware of the criteria.”
One of the criteria is winning at least three state championships, which he did over the course of the next three decades. In fact, Barge just played in his sixth US Senior Club Pro Championship. Unfortunately, he missed the cut, but just qualifying for the event was another major milestone in his illustrious career.
Only the top 35 players in the world get to play in these championships, and he was honored to get to make another trip down to Austin, TX. “We stayed right there at Barton Creek. It was 97 degrees every day, but the heat wasn’t oppressive. It keeps you loose,” he says. Adding that he even got to enjoy the world-famous County Line Barbecue on three separate occasions!
Another reason he’s got his chin up: He recently qualified for the PGA Professional Championship as well. Barge has a lot to be proud of, having taken home more than his share of hardware over the years, including a Minnesota State Open, a State Senior Open and four (!) State Senior PGA Championships.
On Getting the Hall of Fame Phone Call
Three players were inducted this year and, according to Mike, inductees can do whatever they want as far as orchestrating their induction program.
“It was a very pleasant surprise to get that phone call. It’s humbling to be included. It wasn’t the goal. No one has a goal to be in the Hall of Fame.” During our conversation he was thoughtful and realistic looking back on his career. “I personally think I’ve under-achieved. A lot of people feel the same way...that they could’ve accomplished a lot more—more than some, less than others.”
Playing Past Fifty: Barge’s Best Years
Surprisingly, Barge’s biggest stretch of success came when a lot of players start to see their game go into decline. “I feel like most of what I’ve accomplished was after I turned 50.” He goes on to say that if he’d quit playing golf at 49, he never would’ve had the playing record to get into the Hall of Fame. “Most of my best golf came between 45 and 55.”
Transitioning to a Senior Player
Mike counsels a lot of senior players and has a real passion for helping to prolong their playing days. He offers, “When we start to age a little bit, unlike other sports, we can reinvent ourselves. There are different ways to play the game.”
The key, he goes on to explain, is to “stay healthy and stay motivated.” He says he was fortunate enough to be both. Of note: he played in 26 state opens before he finally won one. In his own words, “That’s a message of perseverance or stupidity… it can happen if you keep playing and keep grinding.”
Barge is the first to admit that he took full advantage of the big technological advances in equipment over the years, including stronger yet lighter clubs that allowed him to hit the ball with more force with less effort. He mentions a switch in his late 40s to a titanium driver that had a big impact on his game. “I’d never hit the ball far, but after the switch, suddenly all of these courses got a little shorter for me. I took advantage of that.”
Adapting to Age
Mike explains that swing-wise, as you get older you lose strength and flexibility. “You don’t get stronger or more flexible.” He’s a big fan of hybrids and has jettisoned clubs that are simply way too hard to hit. “I’m 65 years old. It’s harder to compete against the 50 year old’s, but it’s fun to challenge yourself.”
He believes there aren’t many other sports that allow you to do that physically. “If you’ve still got your back and joints and mind, you can still play.” He continues to wake up every day looking forward to competing and practicing.
A Passion to Teach
Mike takes as much pride in his teaching as he does his playing. “Playing is the selfish part. Teaching is the important part. I take all of my students seriously.” He’s coached students all the way to the state championship, but he’s just as proud of helping them win a flight or earn a spot on the golf team.
Hazeltine doesn’t require members to be good players. “We get a wide variety of playing abilities. If you enjoy the game, that’s the biggest factor that makes it easier for me.” He appreciates that his students want to learn and get better. He likes knowing they’ll work on the things they’ve discussed in their lesson.
A Major Supporter of Women’s Golf
Throughout our conversation, Barge notably brings up the female golfers he’s looked up to as much as the men.
“I have to satisfy my mom. She’s in the North Dakota Hall of Fame and was the women’s golf coach at NDSU. She was all about playing opportunities for young girls. Back then there were very few high school golf teams and now it’s turned into pretty extensive operation.”
Mike cites the female players program as where a lot of the growth of golf is coming from. Hazeltine has played a big part in that, even hosting the women’s PGA championship, featuring 150 of the best female golfers in the world.
She Can Do That One-Handed
Mike has taught women state champions and female students that have played well in college golf, but of all the players he’s taught, female or male, one in particular stands out from the rest: Pat Cooper. Cooper was a club champion, but that’s only the beginning. She lost her left arm to cancer, then switched to playing with a prosthetic. And, here’s the kicker: she won even more club championships with one arm than two! Says Mike, “She also won the National Amputee Golf Association championship every time she played—11 or 12 times.” Tragically, her cancer came back and she passed away many years ago. Thinking back on her career, Mike can’t help but wonder, “Why she isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet is beyond me… but she will be.”
Proud to Be Associated with the “Big H”
“Hazeltine has done a lot for my career and I never take it for granted,” says Mike. “They’ve given me the freedom to be my own guy out here. I go to national tournaments. No matter who I introduce myself to, when I say I’m from Hazeltine, their eyes get big. Everyone in the golf world knows Hazeltine and what they stand for.” He views his job as being able to represent Hazeltine in the best light possible. “It’s a pretty huge honor. I’m very lucky to be able to do what I do.”
Topics: Member Stories