The number of golfers he trained over a half-century as a PGA pro numbers well into the thousands.
Jim Barillo not only owned a sweet swing, he also taught one … from the rawest duffer to the most accomplished of his myriad pupils, including fellow professionals.
Jim passed away, at age 81, on Saturday in Bradenton, Fla., where visitation was
held yesterday with his funeral today.
Fittingly, a celebration of his life will be held in Olean this spring.
After all, he was the pro at three Twin Tiers courses, first at Bradford’s Pine Acres, then back across the border, initially at Bartlett Country Club and finally at Allegany’s Birch Run, a 9-hole course he and wife Judy owned for 23 years before selling it after the 2009 season.
But while he was very adept at the social and diplomatic responsibilities of a club pro, it was as a golf instructor that Jim Barillo stood out. He was the unquestioned swing guru in the Southern Tier, a reality confirmed when, in 1991, Golf Digest named him one the the Top 400 Golf Instructors in the United States. Twice (1992, 2004) he was the Western New York PGA Teacher of the Year and in ‘97 he was tabbed its Junior Golf Leader.
Jim’s most recent honor was being admitted into the PGA's "Half Century Club,” an elite group which has “served professional golf with honor and pride” for at least 50 years.
So prolific were Barillo’s skills that he was the cover subject of the 2008 Times Herald Golf Edition titled “Teaching Pro.”
JIM HAD all manner of tales as my background for that story.
The Hornell, N.Y. native admitted he was a “baseball guy” first and was actually signed as a promising second baseman by the Chicago White Sox organization until an injury ended his career. That mishap pushed him into golf.
He also recalled his first job as a pro at Pine Acres, particularly the night of Jan. 6, 1969.
Jim and Judy and their two young daughters were in their house on the entrance road when Allegheny Airlines Flight 737 crashed on the golf course. Barillo wasn’t sure what had happened, but ran through the snow, in his slippers, toward the flaming wreckage.
The crash killed 11 of the 28 on board and came two weeks after another Allegheny flight, approaching Bradford Regional Airport from the opposite direction on Christmas Eve, went down killing 20 of the 47 aboard.
That horrific memory aside, it was at Pine Acres, actually located on a hilltop in Marshburg, where Barillo began creating his reputation as an extraordinary teacher.
For that Golf Edition story, he told me, “I’ve always been fascinated by the golf swing … the physics and geometry of it. Over the years, I guess I’ve developed an eye for it.”
To say the least.
INDEED, other than the touring pros he tutored while wintering in Florida, Barillo influenced most of the high-profile Southern Tier golfers including nine-time Southwestern New York-Northwestern Pennsylvania Men’s Amateur champion Chris Blocher, the late John Forrest, who won it three times, and Bradford’s Dan Reiley, with a title on his resume.
Reiley, who learned the game from Barillo, once told me, “Talk about a swing doctor … he’s it. He’s helped a lot of (Western New York) pros.
“Jim studies the golf swing more than anybody I’ve ever known … including the guys who tutor touring pros. Nobody has studied (the swing) more than him … he has such a great eye.”
For the same story, Forrest said, “Jim has a great knack for teaching and, best of all, he’s willing to help anybody, no matter their ability.”
And if there was any question about Barillo’s ability as a swing instructor, Blocher has a story that debunks it.
The Allegany native and former St. Bonaventure star was playing in the 2000 New York State Men’s Amateur in Rochester.
After a horrible practice round, Blocher frantically called Barillo.
“He fixed me on the phone,” Chris said in awe. “I told him what the ball was doing and he told me what to do to correct it.”
The following day, Blocher medaled in the field of 144.
AFTER the Barillos sold Birch Run, they still summered in the Olean area and Jim continued teaching, both at the former O’Dea’s Golf Range on the West River Rd. and for also for Holiday Valley in Ellicottville.
My golf was so bad — having given it up decades ago — my mantra was that even he couldn’t “fix” me. Instead, we shared hip replacement stories, a product of my encouraging him to get one.
I’ll miss him and those talks, but not as much as Blocher will.
“Jim gave me my first lesson when I was 18 … my senior year of high school,” he said. “What made him special is that he didn’t teach everybody the same … what worked for me, wouldn’t necessarily work for John or Dan.
“Four or five years ago, my back was bothering me and I told Jim I wanted to play golf for the rest of my life. He altered my swing so that it would put less stress on my back … and it worked.”
Blocher concluded, “I put a lot of pressure on myself in 2017. Jim loved (the Men’s Amateur) and had told me that he wouldn’t be spending as much time up here in the summer from then on.
“But he was here that year and I just wanted to do well as a tribute to him and what he’d done for me.”
Blocher did just that, winning his eighth Men’s Amateur title with Barillo there for all five days.
(Chuck Pollock, a Bradford Publishing senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)