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After long detour, Barry lands at OSU

Recruiting golfers is a lot like the game itself: hit and miss.

And Oregon State men's coach Brian Watts freely admits he couldn't have whiffed more spectacularly on former North Medford standout Mike Barry if he were swinging at a whiffle ball in a hurricane.

Now he has a second chance after Barry transferred from the University of San Diego, where he'd spent two and half years, to the school he originally longed to attend.

"I figured I'm not going to let him get away twice," says Watts, in his sixth year. "I made that mistake once, and I didn't intend to make it again."

Watts recruited Barry in the fall of 2004. Barry visited OSU with his parents, then returned home and the next day called to tell Watts he wanted to become a Beaver.

Watts, however, balked. He had other players to consider and wasn't sold on the Black Tornado senior.

"For some reason I was hesitant," says Watts. "Mike hadn't shot a lot of really good numbers."

Then came the spring, and Barry's game was in full bloom. He shot those low numbers, won his second Southern Oregon Conference district title and became the first Medford player to win the individual state championship in 23 years.

Watts' opinion turned as sharply as a snap hook, and he couldn't get to Beaverton, site of the state tournament, fast enough. But when he approached Barry and offered a scholarship, he learned San Diego had received his commitment less than three weeks earlier.

"Obviously, I was disappointed," says Watts. "But it was my mistake, and I'll be the first to admit it."

It'll be easier to live with since Barry, who comes from a long line of Beavers, boomeranged back to Oregon. He enrolled at OSU in late March and was immediately added to the roster after Watts polled his players and found they welcomed the newcomer with open arms.

Because Barry played the fall season at San Diego, it counts as a full year of eligibility. After sitting out the requisite one year following a transfer, he'll have the 2009-10 school year to compete.

As a roster member, he's able to practice with the team and will play amateur tournaments between now and the time he's able to don OSU colors in action. One of the amateur events will be the Southern Oregon Golf Tournament, of which he's the defending champion.

Barry enjoyed his time in San Diego but it proved a forboding distance from home.

"I just kind of wanted to get closer to home," he says. "That was a big part of it. Not getting to see my family much took a toll on me. From the way things are going right now, I made a really good choice for me. I miss the guys down there quite a bit, but I made the best decision for me and my family."

San Diego coach Tim Mickelson was caught off guard by the departure of one of his top players.

In three tournaments last fall, Barry had the best scoring average by well over a stroke a round. His 72.17 was the only one lower than 73.50.

Five other Toreros had rounds better than his low of 68, which indicates his play was consistently good.

"It was pretty solid," says Barry. "I never really played a bad tournament."

Mickelson, the brother of PGA star Phil, could understand better than most a desire to switch schools. He did so himself, going from Arizona State to Oregon State — where he still holds a number of scoring records.

That doesn't take all the sting out of it, though.

"I wish him nothing but the best of luck," says Mickelson. "I hope he does well at Oregon State. I honestly didn't want to see him leave, but if someone is not where they want to be, you can't force them to be here."

As much as Barry's game evolved while at San Diego, Mickelson, who had a good relationship with the player, believes his greatest strides were in balancing golf and schoolwork after struggling as a freshman.

"He did a lot of maturing," says Mickelson. "He really buckled down and proved he can handle the academics."

Before deciding on OSU, Barry spoke with Casey Martin, the Oregon golf coach. Ultimately, Corvallis beckoned.

The Beavers placed eighth recently at the Pac-10 Conference championships and have been selected for the NCAA West Regional next week in Bremerton, Wash., where they'll be seeded 14th.

Of the 13 players on the roster, five are seniors or juniors who don't figure to be around when Barry becomes eligible.

Watts declines to predict how Barry will fit into the rotation.

"That's a little bit too far ahead," says Watts. "But I can't imagine him not being in the lineup and being a huge contributor to the program."

And if the Beavers had his services now?

"If we had him in the lineup right now, oh my gosh," says Watts. "It would be scary. We've been looking for that fifth guy that can be consistent. Mike wouldn't be fifth but "¦ patience, that'll be the biggest thing for all of us. Just being patient. But he seems to be really happy here so far."

So, too, is the coach who let him get away the first time.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

After long detour, Barry lands at OSU