Date: November 29, 2015
Author: Mark Hayes

The coach: Tracing the footsteps to Open glory


There are two grooves worn in the concrete floor of Gary Barter’s Oatley garage.

They are the size of a young Matt Jones’ feet.

Barter, the Emirates Australian Open winner’s coach of 20 years, was among the proudest and most emotional of the huge Jones contingent who witnessed the hometown triumph at The Australian today.

And, as he fought back tears of joy, Barter predicted it would kickstart a charge to an even larger prize down the road.

“The very best players in the world handle adversity better than others,” Barter said.

“Matt’s challenge leading this tournament today in front of the members on the course he has grown up on (was huge).

“Our goal has always been to win major championships. He won (the) Houston (Open last year) and that was a big step for us.

“But this will be huge.

“Looking at Matt and the beautiful golf swing he’s got, he always reminded me of (1995 US PGA winner Steve) Elkington.

“Even though he’s been a late bloomer (aged 35), we’re really going to see much more from Matt Jones in the next five years.”

The story of Jones and Barter is extraordinary.

Jones, who had his first hole-in-one aged six at Kareela Golf Club in Sydney’s southern suburbs, was introduced at age 15 when his mother Vicki’s catering business had cause to serve Nicole Barter’s law firm.

“They would bring Vicki in to make some food for the meetings and she’s a fabulous cook and it just came from there,” Gary Barter recalled.

“Matt’s mum said to my wife, ‘Can I get my son to get a golf lesson from your husband?’.

“Brett (Matt’s brother who played this week) gets forgotten and he came out as well. They lived about five minutes from our home and many nights Matt would be in my garage hitting balls.

“I always say to people, ‘You’ve got to work hard’.  I’d love to show them how hard Matt worked because in my garage – we’ve got a cement floor – we made a net in there and there’s a dip in the cement floor from the amount of balls he hit through the feet.

“To see him come through and win this great championship we’re very, very lucky.

“He came as a 15-year-old to this very club and the amount of times we would be out on the course talking about winning the Australian Open …

“Greg Norman being Matt’s hero, I don’t know whether it was divine intervention but he battled that front nine, like Norman, with great courage.

“Matt had great courage today. To see him all the way through and work with him. He’s been very loyal to me and I knew when he birdied 16 – to birdie that hole into the breeze – I was proud of him.

“It was unbelievable and very emotional.”

Barter said Jones looked good as a 15-year-old, but was surprised by how much he’d improved soon after their first lesson.

“Beyond the range you’re not seeing how much courage someone has got, or how much drive they have got or how much will they have got,” he said.

“From a ball-striking point of view, he looked OK. But I vividly remember the first lesson and looking at his golf swing and then Matt came back a month later and made a miraculous improvement.

“I said to (his father) Kevin, ‘Gee, Matt’s really improved’.

“Kevin said, ‘Gary, you sound surprised’. He said Matt had been in the garage every night for two hours a night. I knew from right at that point he was different and I suppose that is what differentiates the champions.”

As Barter battled to find the right words to convey his pride, he eventually settled on an analogy with a pugilist after a round far from Jones’ best, but one in which he showed those exact qualities after being caught on the equivalent of golf’s ropes for much of a dramatic final round.

“He was like a boxer who was taking some serious blows, but he came back and did it. It takes a lot of courage – and he had it today.”

Kevin Jones acknowledged his son’s relative anonymity – having lived in the US for almost half his life – would be blown by his memorable triumph, but said there was little of which Matt would be more proud.

“It’s your national title and Matt has always wanted to win it – he always talks about it,” the champ’s beaming father said.

“He comes out every year. He’s a passionate Aussie – he won’t change his nationality, this means the world to him. It really does.”

For his part, Jones was quick to share the glory with those who made it all possible.

“My parents have sacrificed a lot for me to go to the States, play golf in America, to follow my dream,” he said.

“They were out there watching (with) my brother. I have a lot of family and relatives out here this week, friends from Oyster Bay in the Sutherland Shire that have come out to watch me.

“And then there’s Gary, who works here who’s spent tireless hours waking up at 1am to give me lessons on a range while I’m in a (US PGA) Tour event.

“He sacrifices a lot to give me a chance to compete week in and week out on Tour.

“This trophy is just as much his as it is mine.”