CHASKA, Minn. — Mike Barge, at 64 still what they call a "flatbelly" in golf, stood on the driving range at Hazeltine National Golf Club this week and swapped stories with his friend and Hazeltine member Gary Reding. A visiting newspaper writer from Fargo asked Barge whether his game was as good as always.
Reding provided the answer.
"We were playing in Arizona this winter. Bargie birdies 8, pars 9, then birdies 10, 11, 12 and 13," Reding said. "As he's walking off the 13th green, in true Bargie fashion, he says, 'Anybody know of a hard game I can play?'"
Some things never change. Barge's skill at golf and his dry wit are included in that category.
This can be included, too: As another major championship envelops Hazeltine, the venue built for majors in suburban Minneapolis, Barge will be in the mix and enjoying every moment of it.
A 1972 graduate of Fargo South High School, Barge is in his 33rd year as the head teaching professional at Hazeltine. It's a job that's allowed him a front-row seat and inside-the-ropes access to events like the 1991 U.S. Open, the 2002 and 2009 PGA Championships and the 2016 Ryder Cup.
This week is the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, a major for those on the LPGA Tour. All the top names in women's golf were filing past Barge as he patrolled the range and nearby practice putting green. No. 1 Jin-Yung Ko, No. 2 Lexi Thompson, No. 3 Minjee Lee. They are all here.
"It's not the only reason we exist as a club," Barge said. "But it's right there, literally in the first sentence of our mission statement. 'To build and maintain a golf course suitable for the conduct of national championships.' It's what we do. Our members embrace that and understand that."
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It's a perfect fit for Barge. A high school state champion as a Bruin, Barge played college golf at Southern Methodist in Texas (where he was a teammate of Payne Stewart, who won the '91 Open at Hazeltine). He's been a high-level player in Minnesota for decades.
He's won a Minnesota PGA stroke play and two match play titles, four senior stroke play championships, the Tapemark Charity Pro-Am and the Minnesota Senior Open. Barge has qualified for 25 PGA club professional and senior professional championships, including three U.S. Senior Opens and two PGA Senior championships.
That resume earned Barge an induction into the North Dakota Golf Hall of Fame in 2012 and he'll be so honored by Minnesota this summer. The Minnesota Golf Association earlier this week announced Barge will be inducted into its hall of fame, along with Bob Olds and Hilary Lunke.
"It's kind of numbing. It wasn't a goal, something where I said, 'I'm going to be a hall of famer,'" Barge said. "I just kind of played a lot of golf over the years and things worked out. It's humbling."
Unable to resist a wisecrack, Barge added: "I guess I'm done. It's over. I'm a hall of famer."
Nothing could be more untrue. He has a full schedule of events scheduled later this summer.
This week, though, is all about the Women's PGA Championship. Barge will hang out at the driving range, making sure the players and caddies have everything they need. Considered one of the top teaching pros in Minnesota, Barge enjoys watching the top female players in the world practice.
"Look at the tempo these women have. So smooth," Barge said as pros like Ally McDonald and Carlota Ciganda hit balls nearby. "Every shot they hit looks the same. It's amazing consistency."
Much like Barge's golf game -- and wit -- all these years.