PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.—What is the perfect Mother’s Day present? If you’re Blayne Barber, it would be a victory on Sunday at the Players, which this Lake City, Fla., native attended while growing up. It’s still a family affair: Once the tournament begins, his mom, Terri, will be with him every step of the way, just as she always has been, going back to when she was his chauffeur in junior golf or his caddie at the U.S. Amateur. In Blayne’s three seasons on the PGA Tour his mom has been a regular presence in the gallery, usually speed-walking half-a-hole ahead, the better to conceal her nerves from her son and occasionally reveal his fate. “She started walking ahead like that when I was in junior golf,” says Blayne, “because there's nobody out there watching, so you'll hit a shot and you don't really know how it ends up, and she felt compelled to always be up there to clap or give a thumbs down, to kind of give me some heads up as to where the ball is. Out here on Tour, sometimes people are a little stingy with their applause, so if I’m not sure if it’s a good shot I'll kind of look at my mom, and her reaction tells me what I need to know.”
But Blayne is not the only Barber working at this Players. During the practice rounds Terri has manned a cash register within the sprawling tent city that is the home base for the 2,000 or so volunteers who are an indispensible part of this event. In addition to a cafeteria, break area and command center, the volunteer village features a retail shop. While T-shirts sell for $40 in the vast, glitzy merchandise tent that accommodates the general public, nothing in the volunteers’ cramped shop is more than $15, including the latest blade-collared Nike shirts. (It’s also a dumping ground for leftovers, so Terri will be happy to ring you up for a Dell Match Play windbreaker.) She has worked at the Players going back to 2012, but this year’s service comes with a little more urgency, as Terri and Blayne are taking part in the Volunteer Challenge, a Tour-backed initiative in which fans can vote for their favorite tournament volunteers. The top four vote-getters will divvy up $135,500, and Team Barbershop is eager to support the First Tee of North Florida and Young Life, the youth-oriented ministry that Blayne and his wife, Morgan, are involved with. He is not above offering a shameless plug: “If you want to give my mom a nice Mother’s Day present, vote for us!” Ballots can be cast until 2 p.m. on May 13.
Blayne, 27, is oldest of four kids. Brother Jayce played for Jacksonville State, but Blayne’s golf has long defined the Barbers’ lives. “Our family vacations would be centered around his golf events, because we were traveling to so many of them,” says Terri. “We would rent houses with pools and maybe take a babysitter for the younger children and then go out and watch Blayne play and then see the sights, all around the country.”
Blayne benefitted from the support of both of his parents. His father, David, was his “teacher” who gently pushed him to succeed. “My mom was more like, O.K., so you double-bogeyed the last hole and shot 78, just go play well tomorrow and you can make it all better. It's always been good to be reminded of that because it can be hard to have the proper perspective in the moment.”
The Players was an important part of Blayne’s golfing education. Every year he would follow his heroes and camp out at the range, studying their swings. He nabbed autographs with Tiger, Phil, Adam Scott and many others and even scored a photo with Payne Stewart, which Blayne calls one of his earliest memories. In the summer before his sophomore year at Auburn he returned to the Stadium course and won the state amateur. Blayne earned a spot in his first Players thanks to finishing 101st on last season’s FedEx Cup points list. “It truly is a dream come true to be here,” he says. It takes so many little breakthroughs to propel a kid from one side of the ropes to the other. Asked for a favorite golfing memory, Blayne recalled a long-ago Junior Masters, when he was 13: “My dad took me to the course the first day, and we went by a Crispy Cream, and I got two chocolate glazed doughnuts and a Coke for a breakfast. Unbelievable. I think I shot 79 and was well outside the two‑day cut line. The second day my Mom was adamant that I eat a good, healthy breakfast, so she made me eggs and toast and all kinds of stuff. As added incentive, she said if I shot under par they’d buy me these new Vokey wedges I had been begging for. I shot 67, made the cut and earned new wedges. So that was a good day.”
Blayne now gets his wedges for free, but a mom’s duties never really end. The Barbers are planning a Mother’s Day gathering on Sunday morning. Should Blayne have a tee time later that day, you can bet that Terri will have made sure her boy has eaten a proper breakfast.