Golf: How to turn the greens to gold: You do not even have to win to earn a good living on the pounds 25m European golf tour. John Hopkins reports

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The Independent Online
BRIAN BARNES sat at a small round table in a corner of the West Chiltington clubhouse in Sussex. His ruddy face, big hands and open-neck shirt gave him the look of an outdoors man who had called in to the pub for a lunchtime pint. By rights, he should have been out on the driving range hitting balls or practising his putting prior to leaving for Dubai to compete in this week's Desert Classic, the second event of the 1993 European season.

But his plans to practise had been shelved, and he was slightly miffed. His poor form last year means that to compete he has to rely on sponsors' invitations, and he had just heard that he did not have a place in the tournament, one of the more valuable on a tour which spans 10 months and has a prize fund of more than pounds 25m.

A dozen years ago, when Barnes was one of European golf's leading lights, the season lasted half as long and a 'top 10' finish in the order of merit would be worth around pounds 30,000. Last year, no fewer than 54 players exceeded pounds 100,000, and Barnes's earnings, a paltry pounds 20,000, did not cover his outgoings. Definitely not what he had in mind when the money on offer helped to entice him back on to the tour in 1991 after a break of a few years.

'You know what the crazy thing is?' he asked. 'I only ever won more than pounds 30,000 in two years on tour - pounds 38,000 in 1980 and pounds 33,000 the following year. I was fifth in the order of merit in 1980 and 12th the following year. Bad as last year was, it was still more than I won in any season except those two banner years. I must have made a loss last year. That sort of money won't get me into the top 150 now.'

When Barnes first went out on tour in 1965 Colin Montgomerie was two, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros were seven, and Jose Maria Olazabal was not yet born. Changes? He has seen them. When he began he received three free balls at each event - and if he was lucky another three if he made the cut. Now he gets three dozen each week and a half-dozen gloves as well.

On this faltering start to his 25th season on tour, Barnes was philosophical. 'I played quite nicely last season, but I couldn't putt to save my life,' he said. 'These kids are putting like Jesus Christ these days and I can't compete with them. I'm struggling for sponsors' invites. Frankly I can't wait to get on the senior tour. The ordinary tour is a bore. They say you shouldn't wish away your life, but I wouldn't mind skipping the next two years until I'm 50 and then I can start the seniors'.

At his best, Barnes was a genuine star, beating Jack Nicklaus twice in a day at the 1975 Ryder Cup. He won 18 titles, the first in South Africa in 1967, the last near Edinburgh in 1981. 'Every time we tee it up these days, even in the best fields, there are only six men or so who have won more tournaments than me,' Barnes said. 'Eamonn Darcy said last year, 'You must be in the top 40 all-time money winners, Barnesy.' I replied: 'Don't be daft. My total earnings don't come to pounds 500,000 and at least three men each year earn that much now.' '

At 48, Barnes may have lost the fine edge of his game but he has picked up a few short cuts along the way, particularly in the art of saving money. 'The expense today is horrific,' he said. 'Air fares and accommodation, just bed and breakfast, must be between pounds 400 and pounds 500 each week. Lunch and dinner are between pounds 30 and pounds 50 daily. Entry fees are pounds 25 for each tournament.' But roaming the world for a quarter of a century has taught him how to cut corners. 'Not for me it's not,' he said, after hearing that the going rate for caddies is pounds 275 each week plus 5 per cent of a player's winnings, rising to 10 per cent if he won the event.

'Even if I use a local caddie I do my own yardages and all I ask is that he keeps up, cleans up and shuts up. For someone like that I would pay him pounds 30 a day. But more often I have someone from here with me. There are three members of this golf club who come out and caddie for me in most of the tournaments I play in. They like travelling with me and I like having one of them.

'I had a local copper caddying for me in Madeira. That is good in two ways. You have a friend on the course and you've got somebody you can waffle to in the evening about things other than golf. These days most of the guys want to talk about golf 24 hours a day. I'd rather have dinner with a book than many of my fellow golfers.'

He puffed his cigarette. Smoke hung in the air, money was on his mind. 'One thing that differs now compared with the Sixties and Seventies is that all they're really after is five good finishes a year. Five good finishes will give them pounds 100,000. In the old days when the money was far smaller and there were fewer tournaments to play in, consistency was the most important thing. You had to play well every week. Now all they do is attack. Attack, attack, attack, and if they don't qualify in two or three tournaments, who gives a toss because in the fourth or fifth tournament they'll finish in the top five and get 20 grand.'

Barnes's instincts are those of an entertainer and while warming up on practice grounds he is not above teeing a ball higher than usual and deliberately topping it to get a laugh out of the spectators. After six or seven years out of the game he 'missed the adulation'. He played in shorts or plus- fours and hid cans of beer in his golf bag, once winning an event after consuming 10 pints. He smoked in public. He talked to the galleries between shots. He was unconventional. The most wounding thing you could say to him would be that he was boring.

(Photograph omitted)