Back in the Game
Author: Paul deVere | Photographer: John Brackett
In 2003, Todd Barranger was in two elite groups. Having earned his PGA Tour card, he was one of the 125 golfers in the world (number of golfers on the planet: about 61,000,000) who had one. He was also one of approximately 8,000 people in the U.S. (population 290,809,777 in 2003) who was diagnosed with testicular cancer that year. Oh yes, he was also going through a divorce.
He beat the cancer and, since moving back to the Lowcountry, he gets to see son T.J. on a regular basis. But that other thing, making it as a Tour player—that didn’t happen. Or maybe, to mangle the Queen’s English, that didn’t happen … yet.
The first time he was diagnosed with cancer was when he was 25 years old. “To have that when you’re 25, making a good living on the PGA Tour, you think you’re pretty invincible,” Barranger said. “I guess what they say is true; the good Lord doesn’t give you things you can’t handle. Of course, sometimes you wonder what you can handle.”
While playing on the Tour, Barranger visited places like St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital to encourage patients. “Once you see them (the children with cancer), what I went through was really nothing. It just rips your heart right out of you. The cancer humbled me, made me respect life in a different way. It definitely had a grounding affect,” he said.
That “grounding” not only brought him back to son T.J., it brought him to Belfair to teach the game he loves. “Belfair is one of the learning centers you could be in. As a member (at Belfair) it’s a huge bonus if you really want to learn the game and become a student of the game. It’s just a great spot to be,” Barranger said.
Born in New Jersey, Barranger grew up in Arizona, near Phoenix. He thanks his older brother for introducing the future professional to golf. “My brother had a job at the pro shop of a little executive golf course and would take me there when he was babysitting me,” Barranger said. His brother was also an accomplished amateur golfer. He played on Grand Canyon University’s golf team. At age 11, Barranger played with his brother and his teammates, driving it 260 to 270 yards just to keep up with them. After college, his brother got a job with Ping Golf, headquartered in Phoenix, in the PGA Tour department. “I got to watch some of the best players swing clubs. I soaked it in,” Barranger said.
He also credits the Arizona junior golf program for his golf career. “At the time, Arizona had the best junior golf program in the country, producing golfers like Billy Mayfair. My golf career started off once I got into the junior side, once I learned I had a chance in this game,” said Barranger.
He played seven years on the Nationwide Tour, three years on the Asian Tour, and three and a half on the PGA Tour. He also played his share of Monday “qualifiers,” hoping to shoot low enough to nab one of the few spots available at that week’s PGA Tour event.
Barranger recalled one of his Monday mornings. “The one that jumps out most is Vancouver. I had finished a tournament in Odessa, Texas on the Nationwide tour (where he finished in second place) in 2000. The first tee time was 7 a.m. in Vancouver. So we flew all night long. There were no rental cars, so they have us a passenger van. We got there and it was storming and raining and really cold. We have to drive from Seattle across the border to Canada and by the time we got into the tournament golf course it was like 5:30 in the morning. We hadn’t slept. We’d been up all day, so we slept in the van. We showed up at our tee time. I was the first one to tee off. There was dense fog, you couldn’t see anything, but the officials said you’ve got to play. We’d never even seen the golf course.
“I was just getting ready to hit the ball when the official says, wait, we’re in delay. So we set our alarm clock and went back to bed. Two hours later, the fog lifted. We looked where we had lined up the first time. It was straight into the out of bounds. I would have hit it straight out of bounds off the first tee,” Barranger recalled, smiling.
Instead he shot a 62 and won the qualifier.
Barranger started teaching at Belfair’s Jim Ferree Learning Center last March. He is also an instructor at the Professional Golfers Career College in Bluffton where he teaches two classes of golf instruction and one video analysis class. “Then I spend several hours taking them to a golf course, instructing them, improving their games. It’s a fun way to give back to golf and mold the young kids to be outstanding young golf professionals,” Barranger explained.
He said he is truly enjoying this new phase of his golf career. So are his students. “I take pride in my instructing that I’ve never taught anyone who hasn’t gotten better,” Barranger said.
One teaching “tool” Barranger brought with him to Belfair was his experience playing in so many pro-ams while he was on tour. “Learning how to quickly do visual and analytical teaching. I’ve been able to perfect that by playing one or two pro-ams every week through the years. You’re always teaching as you go along, plus you’re playing golf. You don’t want to give them something that is going to destroy their game for the day. You have a very short window. I never realized how good a training tool it was until I started teaching. Being able to teach them something and see improvement immediately, to see the first time they make solid contact, the expressions, they just light up. It’s one of those rare moments in life,” said Barranger.
While Barranger enjoys helping beginners make that first solid contact and showing experienced players how to “score the golf ball,” what he appreciates most are golfers who feel they are finished with the game. “I really enjoy getting people who are done with golf and rejuvenating the game for them—putting life back into it—making golf fun and exciting again. “Yes,” he laughed, “it’s a hard, humbling, unforgiving game. But I like to make sure people develop a zest for golf again.”
After his battles off the course, Todd Barranger has the right attitude to do just that. “It [the cancer] was just kind of a check point. I thought maybe I’d gotten a little ahead of myself in life,” Barranger said. “Now I think I can handle any adversity.”