NEWRY, Maine — Like most people and all amateurs, Brent Barker of Bar Harbor has to fit his golf play around the rest of his life.
Barker coaches boys soccer, girls basketball and baseball at Mount Desert Island High School in Bar Harbor, and he works basketball camps and coaches a basketball team in the summer.
“I don’t play as much as I’d like to,” said Barker on Monday, “but if I can find a half-hour or 45 minutes, I work on my chipping and putting. I lose strokes or gain strokes there.”
He gained them Tuesday when he shot the day’s best round, a 3-under-par 69, in a Maine Amateur Golf Championship qualifier at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono. That put him in the 93rd Maine Amateur, which starts Tuesday at Sunday River Golf Club.
The tournament consists of 18-hole rounds Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a cut to the low 40 and ties for Thursday’s 18-hole finale.
Ryan Gay of Pittston will be trying to win his third straight Amateur title and fourth overall and will be pursued by 131 players, including two-time Amateur winner Ricky Jones of Thomaston and 13-time winner Mark Plummer of Manchester.
Sunday, Barker’s team finished a summer basketball tourney in Camden, and next week they’re going to Skowhegan.
“It’s a busy time. Yesterday, I played nine holes at Northport [Golf Club] on the way back just to make sure I had some play [under his belt],” he said.
It will be Barker’s third straight Amateur, but he said this is the best he has been playing going into it.
“That was my best tournament round ever,” said Barker of his qualifying effort. “I was pretty stoked.”
He finished two strokes ahead of Jim Quinn of Augusta and Matthew Loubier of Waterville. The three were the only players under par at the three qualifying sites.
Barker first qualified in 2010, also at PVCC, because the tournament was being held at his home course, Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor. He made the cut and automatically qualified for last year’s event at Portland Country Club in Falmouth Foreside, but his grandmother’s death just before the Amateur weighed on him and he missed the cut.
“Last year, I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be,” he said.
This year’s qualifier at PVCC was held on the anniversary of her death.
“That made it [the 69] a lot more special to me,” he said. “I think she was watching over me.”
Barker likes qualifying at PVCC and now he hopes that translates into playing well at Sunday River, a par-72 layout that stretches to 7,130 yards from the back tees and is carved out of the forest and around the mountain at the western Maine resort.
“Penobscot Valley fits my game well,” Barker said. “I can spray the driver and still be OK.”
His driver is the reason he concentrates on chipping and putting when he can because his length off the tee, often 300 yards or more, means he hits a lot of short irons to the greens.
“Since college on, my strength has been off the tee,” he said.
If he can get those reasonably close to the cup, then putting takes center stage.
Barker started his college career at what is now Northern Maine Community College, playing golf for two years there before he transferred to the University of Maine at Farmington for two more years, graduating in 2000. He played golf both years and basketball for one.
After college, he returned to the island. Kebo Valley is his home club, but he also plays quite a bit at Northeast Harbor Golf Club. Both are challenging courses.
“They both have a lot of really good features,” he said. “They’ve really helped my game.”
Gaining confidence through tournament play has helped, also.
He gives credit to the MDI Championship, which is contested over MDI’s three golf clubs — Kebo, Northeast Harbor and Causeway Club in Southwest Harbor, for some of that.
“My confidence has gone up over the last five or six years,” Barker said.
He would like that to continue into this week’s Amateur, but he’ll be on unfamiliar ground.
“I don’t know what it’s like,” he said during a stop Monday as he headed for an afternoon practice round at Sunday River, which he has never played before.
He is looking forward to it, though.
“I’ll be able to concentrate more on golf this year,” Barker said. “I’m hoping that … I’ll be able to keep the driver in play and things will go well for me.”