Marist junior Kelly Barker isn’t your typical teenage girl. On the golf course, she actually enjoys spending time with her father.
And lately, that’s been a lot of time.
Her dad, Jim Barker, is the first-year head coach of Marist’s varsity program.
“My dad and I have always had a really close relationship,” Kelly Barker said. “Having him involved in my life has been great. Everyone needs guidance in high school, and having him by my side has kept me grounded and made me a better person all around.”
As a coach, Jim Barker is pushing all the right buttons in an ask and don’t tell approach.
At the start of the summer, he gave the girls a survey asking them what they’d like to get out of their season and where they’d like to see improvements. Their answers provided a blueprint, which the coach said included structured practices, team building and more fun.
“It’s been well organized and well run,” said Ashley Kay, the team’s captain and leading scorer. “It’s a much better experience this year, and I feel I can speak for the rest of the girls. He picks you up 100 percent.”
The proof is in the pudding.
Marist is having its best season in school history. The RedHawks own an 11-3 dual match record and placed fifth in the East Suburban Catholic League, their best finish ever, behind all-conference selections in Kelly Barker and Kay, who is garnering interest from Illinois Wesleyan.
“Everyday I pinch myself and say I’m the luckiest coach in the world,” said Jim Barker, a Marist alum.
“I love the closeness of our program,” he added. “If you look at our top 5 players, it’s like a sisterhood. And that’s going to give us continuity. We’re try to build something here.”
Marist can add to the foundation Wednesday at Green Gardens. The RedHawks host a Class 2A regional and will look to advance to the sectional round for the first time since 2009. Marist should have a good shot, as Kay and Kelly Barker qualified individually last season and have shown mammoth upgrades to their respective games.
Over the past four months, Kay has dropped her handicap by four strokes and Kelly Barker has reduced hers by 5.7.
“I have a double expectation to play for the team and for him,” Kelly Barker said. “When I do (play well), it makes it all the better and more rewarding.”