KORN FERRY TOUR INSIDER
Barnes works grocery job to support family during pandemic
November 06, 2020
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
- Erik Barnes wakes up at 3 a.m., five days a week, to work as a Grocery Replenishment Specialist before working on his game. (Getty Images; Erik Barnes)
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 5, 2020. Erik Barnes Monday qualified for the Vivint Houston Open and would go on to make the cut in his PGA TOUR debut.
At 3 a.m. most days, Erik Barnes shakes the sleep out of his head, tries to keep from waking his two sons – Jaxton, 6, and Tucker, 2 – and leaves for work.
But Barnes isn’t peeling out of the driveway at his newly-built golf course home in Florida, about 35 minutes south of Tampa, to head to the gym to get a workout in, nor is he going for a long run, or putting in any other kind of before-the-sunrise work professional athletes do to try and get a leg up on their competition.
No, Barnes gets going that early in the morning – and has five times a week since March 26 – to head to his job at Publix, the grocery store.
Barnes and his wife, Ashleigh, had just bought a house on Moccasin Wallow Golf Club and had a new mortgage, not to mention car payments and other bills to pay when COVID-19 stopped the Korn Ferry Tour’s season (Barnes was 3-for-3 in cuts made in 2020). With no mini-tour golf to play either and sponsorship dollars not coming through, Barnes started to do the math.
“You start to understand, ‘I need to make some money,’” he said. “That’s just the reality.”
So Barnes headed to the local grocery store (the Publix in this case was only about 200 yards from his home) and asked the manager, Louis, for a job.
Louis hired him on the spot and he started two days later.
“I was almost shell-shocked because you don’t really want to get the job,” said Barnes with a laugh. “You need the job but you don’t really want to go do it because you know how long every day is going to be, for however long this is going to last.”
Barnes told Louis that he had played professional golf for the better part of a decade but with everything going on, he wanted a job. He was hired to stock shelves (his proper title is ‘Grocery Replenishment Specialist’ which prompts Barnes to chuckle every time he says it).
The 32-year-old said his managers ended up telling his colleagues, who range in age between mid-20s and mid-40s, that Barnes had played professional golf before starting work at the store.
After a couple of Internet searches, word started to get around that the new guy was pretty good.
Barnes made a point to request the 4 a.m. – 1 p.m. shift so he can still put in some work on the driving range after he’s done. Sometimes if he works through his breaks he’ll get done at 12:30 p.m. instead, which means a little extra time on the range – if he can stay awake. Usually he’ll pass out on the couch for a few hours while scrolling his phone when he gets home, but he’ll muster up the energy by 3 or 3:30 to get back out there – to ‘work’ again.
“I’m not really the kind of guy to put his hand out. I just wasn’t raised that way. Could I have filed for unemployment and got what I’m making at Publix, yeah, probably,” said Barnes, “but I needed to take action and do it right now because I didn’t know how long this was going to drag on for.”You start to understand, 'I need to make some money.' That's just the reality.
Barnes specifically asked for Saturdays and Mondays off -- he organizes a Saturday game with fellow pros at his club, and the West Florida Golf Tour hosts events on Mondays (after a hiatus, the WFGT resumed this week). So Barnes starts his workweek at 4 a.m. Sunday, and then works Tuesday through Friday at the store.
Publix, he said, made it mandatory that its employees wear masks. There are no handshakes and no handing objects to a customer. He can help them from a distance, though, if someone has a question.
“It’s annoying to wear a mask for eight straight hours, but you understand that although you’re in an environment where most people aren’t sick, they could bring (COVID-19) to the store,” he explained.
Now that the Korn Ferry Tour has announced its proposed restart date – and Barnes has stayed healthy through the duration of his six-week stint at the store – he has already had a conversation with his manager about resigning.
The management, Barnes said, was very helpful with his odd request. His last day will be on May 15 unless the resumption of Korn Ferry Tour competition is delayed further.
If the start date of the 2020 season does get pushed, Barnes said the team understands his situation and wants to keep him employed.
The biggest thing Barnes has learned over the last month-and-a-half, he said with a laugh, is that he’s definitely not lazy. But he also knows that he really wants to get back to playing professional golf.
“Going in every day at 4 a.m. wouldn’t be so bad if this was my only job and I didn’t feel the obligation to go practice for three or four hours,” he said, making a point to state how amazing his wife has been with the kids at home while he shifts from grocery to golf. “Every day that goes by, I’m that much more exhausted and not wanting to do it anymore.”
But, Barnes said, he knows he made the right decision.
“I’m just doing what’s right for my family. I think most people would do the same thing,” he said. “You have to do what’s best for your family.”