Doug Barron, ‘having a ball’ at 50, takes lead in SAS Championship after 66

Doug Barron may be one of the few golfers at the SAS Championship who could bogey three of the last four holes and still have a smile on this face after the round.

Then again, the past few months have been very memorable, very good for him.

As he put it Friday, “I’ve had a fun 50. I’m having a ball. I can’t fret over three bogeys when I’m having the time of my life.”

Barron, who opened with a 6-under 66 at Prestonwood Country Club, turned 50 in July and promptly qualified for the Senior British Open, tying for fifth. Back in the U.S., he went through a pre-qualifying round, then the Monday morning qualifier to gain a spot in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open, then won the PGA Champions Tour event wire to wire.

With that in mind, the bogeys Friday weren’t attitude-killers. After seven birdies on his first holes, he was six shots ahead in the opening round at Prestonwood, only to close with a one-shot lead over Woody Austin. But again, no complaints.

“I played good,” Barron said. “Obviously I hit a lot of great shots the first nine holes and I made an awesome putt on the ninth hole. The thing is you don’t necessarily have to hit a bad shot for this course to jump up and bite you. There’s a lot of trouble out there.

“If you’re hitting it good, it’s get-able and I was getting all I could. ... and all of a sudden the game turned around. But I’m really pleased with the day.”

A year ago, Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman and Gene Sauers all had 62s in the opening round of the SAS and Langer went on to post 22 under in winning. But the Prestonwood course and greens were plenty firm Friday.

“And the pins were in some ridiculous spots,” said Smithfield’s Neal Lancaster, who had a 74. “It was really tough.”

Vijah Singh opened with a 68 and Langer a 69, but two of the big gallery draws, Davis Love III and Fred Couples, had slow starts. Love, playing his first SAS round, had a 73. Couples was 3 under par after seven holes but double-bogeyed the par-3 eighth hole and had a run of three bogeys to start the back nine in shooting 74.

The past 10 years, for Barron, have been ... interesting? Challenging?

In 2009, he became the first player to be suspended under the PGA Tour’s anti-doping policy. Barron’s claim was that he took drugs for low testosterone and a heart murmur. In 1987, he said, he had been diagnosed with the murmur and was prescribed with a beta blocker.

Barron sought a therapeutic-use exemption (TUE) from the tour. The tour, after medical testing at the Mayo Clinic in Ponte Vedra, Fla., said Barron’s testosterone level was normal. A 2012 story quoted PGA Tour lawyer Rich Young as saying in court that Barron had taken “the granddaddy of anabolic steroids.” also reported that a tour doctor, after studying an echocardiogram, ruled that Barron’s mitral-valve prolapse did not warrant medication.

The suspension went into effect and not lifted until the fall of 2010. Barron, a Memphis, Tenn. native who played college golf at Mississippi State, sued the tour and the suit was settled.

What followed were years without any appearances on the PGA Tour -- the 2009 St. Jude Classic was his last. There were a slew of mini-tour events as Barron played in his 40s at many a locale, many a tournament, and he said he won three times this year on the Emerald Coast Tour before his 50th birthday.

Winning the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in Endicott, N.Y., changed everything. Barron had an exemption -- a playing exemption for the remainder of 2019 and all of 2020. He had a $307,500 paycheck. He was the first Monday qualifier to win a Champions event since Willie Wood in 2012.

As he told the media at the Dick’s, “It’s not the Emerald Coast Tour anymore.”