In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, G4D player Kurtis Barkley shares what it’s like living with scoliosis, achieving his dreams and playing on Tour.
I am incredibly proud of my journey to the G4D Tour, but sometimes I think about where I come from and all of this still feels surreal. I grew up pretty much the middle of nowhere countryside in a town in Williamsburg that probably has 2000 people (and that’s including the cows in the field), but here I am playing golf on a Tour in Dubai like I always dreamed of and sharing a locker room with Rory McIlroy. I haven’t had the easiest life, but this feels like a dream come true. And none of it would have been possible without my disability or golf.
I was born with scoliosis, so scoliosis is the normal for me, and it impacts every part of my life. My Scoliosis curves three ways, and the worst curve is over 50 degrees. I didn’t develop a full rib cage, so my left ribs overlap my hip, and I have an extra bone in my neck that limits movement. It affects me every single minute of every day: From sleeping and exhaustion to my lungs, my heart and my flexibility, and I live in constant pain with muscle aches and arthritis. When you look at our Tour you see that some people were completely able-bodied people before an accident or a tragedy or something like that, and there's other guys on Tour that were born with stuff and it's an everyday thing with life.
That’s what it’s like for me, but it’s always been my normal. It's funny, but as I grew up I didn't know I was different until I got a little older. I thought everybody else went to the Children's Hospital. But maybe that helped as I’ve never let it affect me. I tried to just do the best I could and make everybody proud and it's definitely made me who I am today.
On the course, the hardest part of my golf is putting. I used to anchor my putter, but because my ribs overlapped my hips on my left side I couldn’t rock my shoulders like an average person, so I had to learn different ways to do it. But I’ve been working really hard with Chris Bernard my putting coach, and he’s got me with a better set up and I’ve been rolling it very well and making improvements. Even the other guys on Tour have noticed, so hopefully that helps this week.
Off the course, it’s very hard to sleep because I can never get comfortable, so I sleep with a lot of pillows. Unfortunately it doesn't really make a difference. I have to be really extremely exhausted. When I played in Sweden this year, when we got back from the course after round one, I shot like 82 or something, and there was only six hours until we had to get up and go back to the course and play the following round. So instead of taking a sleeping pill, I just stayed up all night because if I would've taken the pill, I would've never got up in the morning to make the second round. So I didn't sleep the entire night and went out and shot 69 and climbed back up to third place.
There’s a lot that has been incredibly difficult, but the hardest part of my disability is probably living a solid good life. When I was 18 years old my specialist at the children’s hospital said my body was more like a 50-year-olds, so at the age of 24-25 I had to go on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program), making about $1100 a month. I've been on a pension now for 10 years.
Money was never really a big part of my life, and I make do with what I have because I’m happy with life, not objects. I never buy anything full price. I even had a pair of golf shoes for over eight years, but I’m just happy with what I have. There was a time a couple of years ago that I lived in a cabin for three months after splitting up with my fiancé, but when bad things happen I always try to make a good thing come from it.
The only thing I do invest in is myself playing golf, and each year I get farther and farther in to debt so I do wish we could play for money, but I’ve always just been excited to be here and live each and every day as if it was my last, because tomorrow is never a promise. I keep investing in myself, so hopefully it pays off in the end.
Golf has given me a lot. Until golf, everybody had looked at me as like an underachiever. I wasn't quite an underachiever, but I was definitely lacking something. I'm short and I couldn't do exactly do things they way everyone else did, but it didn't stop me from figuring out how to do it my way, even if that meant I had to outwork them. When I would do something, I would always do it a hundred percent and to the best of my abilities. It was definitely hard, but I’ve always liked a challenge. I never liked other people trying to tell me what I can and can't do. When I was growing up, some of my famous words were, I do what I want and what's the worst that can happen?
It was always a dream of mine to play on a Tour. I got into golf when I was about three years old, watching my dad. He was really good as an amateur, and then became a teaching professional, and I was kind of in awe when I was growing up watching him hitting balls, winning tournaments and just seeing the respect he got. So he taught me the basics and told me to master them, and pretty much built my swing until I was about 15.
I think I was about six or seven when I first saw it on TV and said to him, ‘they actually make a living playing golf’. At that age you have an imagination, and my imagination was to play on Tour worldwide. And as you get older reality comes into play and you kind of lose that imagination, but I always had that dream of playing always at the next level, so to be able to do that now is amazing.
I’ve also always been very competitive, and my brother was a huge mentor for me. When I could see my brother do it, it was always a competition between me and him. And we competed with everything. I played all sports. The reality check was when I got older, and I didn't grow as tall, but I always competed and was a pretty good athlete all round. But after really committing to golf, it was my goal to make it to a Tour and Tony and Sue made this beautiful Tour for us, and I’ve tried to convince others to come out on Tour too, which is an incredible thing for me to think that through golf I have had an effect on someone just because I play this sport.
I think the G4D Tour and EDGA is definitely where I’m supposed to be. Before I found out about EDGA (European Disabled Golf Association) in 2019 I was trying to play but finding it hard to compete. I had a very good junior career in the area I lived in, but then I went to competitions in the Ottawa Valley, and that’s really where I had to learn that I needed to get even better. I also tried out a few Monday qualifiers for the Canadian Tour, but I just wasn't able to hit the ball far enough: When guys were coming in with nine irons, eight irons, I was coming in with six five irons. I played right up until 2018, and then had decided I was going to concentrate on other parts of my life. A year later I found out about EDGA and in one season got up to 11th in the World. The following year they began the G4D Tour, and now I’m playing my third year.
I'm also just inspired by everybody on this Tour. They're like family to me, each and every one of them. We're all different in our ways, but we're all the same in so many ways. So we all have different disabilities, but we all have a different story of how it affects us and where we've come from. It's amazing, and it’s been great to experience everything with them. And yeah, I can't wait to see them at the next one and compete. I love competing and testing myself. Yeah, a golf shot's, not a golf shot unless there's something on the line. I am just grateful to have a platform that I can play on, represent my country, represent my golf course, Cedar Glen, represent people with disabilities. I'm just very fortunate that I can do what I can.
I'm kind of still in disbelief that I get to play against some of the best in the world. We're an elite. We're elite athletes, and we just happen to have disabilities. They're all different disabilities, and it's an amazing, I couldn't believe the first year, the second year, the third year, I still pinch myself every day. I am so grateful for the opportunities I get. I always take full advantage of them. I take it all in every time. I never thought I would ever get this far. I still want to get better. I know I can get better. I would love to put two good rounds together. Not one, okay, and one good or one bad, and one good, but we're getting there. It's all a learning process and I love it. It's really a dream come true.
I've met a lot of amazing people and golfers on the DP World Tour and PGA Tour that have given me a lot of time. Last year, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm were the only two other guys in the clubhouse on the final day while I was waiting for a ride to get to the airport. They were signing stuff. I've talked to Rory a few times in the locker room and have had some great chats, and I’ve even got his locker badge. It’s unbelievable to even talk to him and get pictures with him, because he’s such an inspiration, and it’s a dream come true to interact with these guys. I actually messaged Kurt Kitayama the other day too, and I was hoping he might be in Dubai so I could ask him about what he was thinking on the 18th green at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and he gave me a lot of great advice on how to handle situations like that.
It's a very good feeling that I can repay back my family with these trips to G4D and EDGA events when I don't really have money or anything to repay them for what they've done for me. My parents are my heroes. They've sacrificed a lot to help me get where I am today. I love to take mom as my caddie. I do the course management, she helps with the wind, cleans the clubs, gets divots and holds the flag. She tries to keep me as positive as possible. We actually have the same birthday, so we’re pretty close. I've also taken dad over to Europe as well, and we played the European swing the first year, just before they called it the G4D Tour. Family is everything to me, and I owe my mom and dad a lot. It's an unbelievable experience, and I wish I could do more.
My goal now is to get that first win, but I'm pretty proud of my second places this year. To me, they feel like a win. I'm playing against the best in the world. It's not quite a win. I've gotten, I'm pretty sure, eight or nine seconds on Tour now, and the first win that I get – when or if I get it, is just going to be that more to me. But other than that, I definitely want to get into the top 10 in the world to. And yeah, I'm just proud to be on the tour. So I normally play the course. I don't play the people. I do the best I can and if I come out on top, I come out on top. That's the way I look at things. I'm just happy to be on Tour, to be honest, to travel the world, see the places I've seen, do the things I do. Even though I'm in constant pain, I'm not one to complain or make excuses. I just do the best I can while I can, because one day I'm going to look back and remember that these were the good old days. I have currently 65 wins since I was 18 and nine seconds on the G four D tour.