|Pat Hurst, Palm Springs and the US Open|
Published: Friday, 14 July 2006 06:49
Those of us who knew Pat Hurst when she played locally were not at all surprised by her showing in the U.S. Open.
Hurst came from a working class family in San Leandro. She was a blue-collar worker at the game of golf. No pink skirts and country clubs for Pat, it was all Levi's and local munis. Skywest and the Chuck Corica Golf Complex is where she hung out, not the Olympic Club. Gloria Armstrong at Lake Chabot was her teacher, not David Leadbetter. And she won everything in sight.
Hurst's swing is home-grown. She found a way to punch the ball out there with firm wrists, and developed the rest of her game around that impact position. And that swing hasn't changed a bit. Neither has she.
Roger Maltbie mentioned on the July 2 NBC telecast that Hurst was a teaching pro at La Quinta in Palm Springs before she joined the tour, and that that was a hard way to make a living.
Now I know Roger well. I wrote his book, Range Rats. But what he said about Hurst was not the entire truth. I'll set him straight the next time I see him.
Meanwhile, here's the rest of the story.
Hurst was the first woman to win the three major amateur championships - the U.S. Junior (1986), the U.S. Amateur (1990) and the NCAA Individual Championship (1989). When she turned pro in 1991, she missed qualifying for the LPGA Tour by one stroke. She failed Q-School (the qualifying tournaments) again the next year by a single shot. This devastated her.
A year after that, she dropped from sight. I wondered what happened to her. Then I ran into her at Nevada Bob's in San Leandro. She was working behind the counter.
I asked her how she was doing. She said she was tired of playing the mini-tours, and had started a new career.
But her eyes betrayed her. Hurst always had laughing eyes. They dance like every day is sunshine. This day her eyes were sad, lost, confused. There was a vacant look about her.
"That's what happens when you fail at Q-School," she said, hunching her shoulders.
She was being true to her blue-collar background.
But when I left, I began thinking that the only woman to hold those three major amateur trophies shouldn't be working behind the counter at a discount store. She wasn't getting the help she needed.
So I wrote about her and her plight in my next column in the Oakland Tribune.
The next week, Hurst moved out of town. That bothered me. I did not mean to shame her, I meant to help her out. Someone would read that column, I believed, and help her continue as a player.
A few months passed, and I heard through the grapevine that Hurst had landed in Palm Springs. I called up Bob Rosburg, the pro at La Quinta (and a former Alameda Commuters champ), and told him that Pat Hurst was in the area. Don't tell her I called, I said.
Rosburg took Hurst under his wing. His forte was always the short game. The next time Hurst tried Q-School, her short game helped her to 20th place, and a player's card.
Hurst was introduced at a press conference in Sacramento for the Twelve Bridges Championship the next spring. I noted that the media guide did not have her outstanding accomplishment - the only woman to hold those three major amateur trophies. I told the LPGA Media Relations exec, who seemed to get mad at Hurst for not listing this accomplishment.
Seems I couldn't do anything right. But the LPGA should have known that, no matter how shy Hurst was about her accomplishments.
Pat was diffident that day. And she still seemed a little angry at me. But she did win Rookie of the Year in 1995. And in 1998, she won her first major, the Dinah Shore (Kraft Nabisco) in Palm Springs.
The next week she was playing in Sacramento. Her eyes were laughing again. And she thanked me for that column I wrote. Otherwise, she said, she would have just faded into obscurity, "Probably at some Wal-Mart."
This was on a Tuesday. She'd won a whole lot of money in Palm Springs on Sunday. I asked her about her flight up here. It must have been a gas.
"I flew stand-by," she said, not missing a beat.
When I mentioned she might have earned a first-class seat, she just scoffed. That's Pat Hurst all the way. Money never changed her. Fame means little. Just put a golf club in her hands and let her play.
Last Sunday Hurst battled Annika Sorenstam for 36 holes in the U.S. Women's Open at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island. On the final green, Hurst sank a tricky 5-foot putt to tie Sorenstam.
Hurst lost in the Monday playoff, but her eyes were still full of life. Win or lose, she just loved being in that kind of competition.
And who knows? Maybe she flew home on stand-by.