Gabby Barker looking to make par.
John Weast / Courtesy Gabby Barker
Gabby Barker looking to make par.

The Perfect Swing Thought: Gabby Barker Is Always Shooting for a Lower Score, Higher Appreciation of Native Heritage

Kristin Butler

Gabby Barker grew up in Caldwell, Idaho, a couple hours’ drive from the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, where her father, Dwight Barker (Shoshone), was raised. “I learned golf from my dad,” she says, “and he has been my
coach my whole life.”

When she graduated from high school, the Shoshone/Paiute golfer left her hometown, which is framed by mountains, for the flat desert of the Texas panhandle in 2014 to join the Red Raider Ladies golf team at Texas Tech in Lubbock. “Texas Tech is amazing and it’s definitely different than back home in Idaho,” she says.

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The 2016 Indian Country Today Media Network Native Golf Directory

If the transition was challenging for her, you wouldn’t know it by looking at her scorecard.

In May, at the conclusion of her sophomore year, Barker was named the 2016 Big 12 Women’s Golf Player of the Year. Barker credits her teachers and family for guiding her to success. “I couldn’t have imagined this happening to me when I first started playing golf, and I couldn’t have done it without [Texas Tech women’s golf coach] JoJo [Robertson], [assistant coach] Matt [Whall] and my parents,” she says. “They have been a huge influence on how I play golf. I can’t thank them enough.”

Barker is the first player in the history of Texas Tech women’s golf program to receive the honor. She was twice named the Big 12 Female Golfer of the Month in the 2015-2016 golf season, claiming the honors in both September and February.

“I am so happy for Gabby to be recognized as the Big 12 Player of the year,” Robertson said. “She is not only a great player, but a great person and leader in our program.”

Barker finds strength in her heritage and in the support and motivation of her family, particularly her parents. (John Weast / Courtesy Gabby Barker)The 10 highest-ranked players in the GolfStat national rankings comprise the All-Big 12 team. After the Big 12 Women’s Golf Championship, the highest-ranked competitor is named the Big 12 Player of the Year, while the highest-ranked freshman receives the Freshman of the Year honor.

She cites a quote from Thomas Edison that reflects her outlook: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

The 20-year-old student maintains her unwavering focus by treating college life like a career. “The time I spend here for college is very demanding, and I treat it like a fun job — one that I know will pay off in the end.”

Barker adds that she was initially surprised by “how much effort I have to put into every day to become who I want to be, but it will definitely be worth it.”

In addition to not following her steadily climbing rank and staying fiercely dedicated to her routine and personal growth, the humble Barker is quick to praise her teammates. “The way I maintain my focus in times of pressure is not only doing it for myself but for my team. My team has moved up the rankings as much as I have.”

Barker plays “for something that means much more than myself,” she adds. Part of that “something” is sharing her culture with others — including the many golf fans who don’t have the slightest understanding of modern Indian identity.

“I have had many reactions to my Native heritage. I share many things about my culture on social media, and I’ll show my teammates, and they don’t have any idea what it is. For example, a pow wow. I showed them a couple videos of the dances, and they were surprised.”

Roots are crucial to Barker. She’s finds strength in her Indianness and in the support and motivation of her family, particularly her parents, Dwight and Robin Barker. “My dad is always the most positive person out there, and will tell me everything I need to know if I feel like I am down,” she says. Her mom is her shoulder to lean on or perhaps cry on after a challenging tournament. “If I had a tough round, she will always be there to listen and give me the best advice on how to keep going.”

While golf will remain a lifelong dedication for Barker, the Human Development and Family Studies major has goals beyond the game. “My area of concentration [in school] is dealing with kids. After college and hopefully a career in golf, I plan on working as a counselor at a high school on a reservation,” Barker says. “I would love to motivate more kids to pursue going to college, not only for sports but to get a college degree.”

She has also thought about going after her masters or PhD, “because I would love to have my own practice someday.”

To reach her goals and juggle school and golf, Barker keeps a regular schedule that begins with class at 9 a.m. daily, involves afternoon golf practice, and rigorous workouts twice weekly. Each day concludes with homework from about 6 to 8 p.m.

Barker’s strategy on the course is similarly straight-forward and methodical. “I am more of an analytical player. I take things as they are and don’t dwell on them too much,” she says of studying a hole and selecting which club to hit.

But her pre-game prep is less traditional. “My happy place is found in music. I listen to music before every round while I warm up, and the last song that I listen to before I shut off my phone is the one I sing for the whole round,” she says. “That is what keeps me happy and easygoing while I’m out on the course.”

Ranked No. 18 nationally in the NCAA by GolfStat, Barker is blazing new trails while representing Indian country. “That is an unprecedented accomplishment for a Native American golfer,” says Notah Begay III, Navajo/Pueblo, four-time PGA Tour winner. “She’s currently ranked higher than players from powerhouse programs like Stanford, UCLA and Duke.”

Not that Barker follows her ranking— she only knows how she stands there when people inform her. Barker’s only goal is to beat her own best. “I think that no matter where I am at on the leaderboard, I know in my heart that I am capable of reaching a higher potential,” she says.

“I’m sure she has dreams of playing professionally, like I did,” Begay says. “I know what it takes, and she has the skill, and it sounds like the determination.

Hopefully I get a chance to meet her and just visit, get to know her.”

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