Pat Hurst shows no signs of slowing down
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A number of years ago, almost before she got started, Pat Hurst decided she no longer wanted to play golf.
After coming out of San Jose State University in 1991 as a U.S. Women's Amateur and NCAA champion, she turned professional, headed to LPGA qualifying and failed -- two straight years.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do," she remembers. "I just knew at that time I didn't want to play golf. I was burnt out. I said it could be like the usual three days, or it could be for the rest of my life that I didn't want to touch a golf club."
As it turned out, early retirement lasted almost two years. After working at a Nevada Bob's Golf shop for much of that time, Hurst finally returned to competition and in her third try at qualifying earned exempt status. Now, 18 LPGA seasons later, she's acting as if she might never stop.
"If I just keep pushing, I think I'll be OK," Hurst said.
Through 36 holes of this week's LPGA Championship, that push is starting to look very much like a full-fledged shove.
With a second-round 67 on Friday at Locust Hill Country Club, the 42-year-old wife and mother of two is 7 under and in sole possession of second place at the season's second major, just one shot behind leader and world No. 1 Yani Tseng (70). American Morgan Pressel, Finland's Minea Blomqvist and South Korea's Hee Young Park each shot 69 and are two shots back.
"I'm not thinking about leading this golf tournament; I'm just thinking about playing some good golf and making some putts," Hurst said.
She knows the routine. Hurst has six LPGA career wins, including one major, the Kraft Nabisco in 1998. She was second in another, runner-up to Annika Sorenstam in the 2006 U.S. Women's Open. She has five Solheim Cup appearances. Her career earnings of almost $7 million -- the exchange rate compiled much like dog years -- rank 17th all time.
"I'm glad I came back," she said. "I love to play. The competition you can't get anywhere else but out here. That's why I still love coming out."
More than two years, however, have passed since Hurst's last victory. Family life, a role on the LPGA advisory board, the recent construction of a new home and relocation from Scottsdale, Ariz., back to her native California all took a toll on golf.
"A lot of little things took up a lot of time," she said. "I just didn't have much time to focus."
Looking around a golf course, she started to see young faces on one side of her and younger ones on the other.
"When the girls are 20 years younger than you, you definitely feel like a veteran," she said.
Then along came Friday's seven-birdie, two-bogey round. Like country western star Toby Keith sings, "I ain't as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was."
"I'm practicing a lot more," Hurst said. "Who knows if I'm back. But I'm playing good. I'm hitting the ball well. If I get some putts falling and get some confidence, I'll feel good about my game."
Friday was a big step. Hurst needed only 25 putts. Two of them were long-range birdies, one outside 40 feet -- thanks to help from a friend.
Before putting, Hurst has her caddie stand behind her and assist in her alignment. It's a routine that has become popular with a number of LPGA players but extremely unpopular with others who suggest it's not in the spirit of the game.
"I know it's a pet peeve for a lot of people out here," she said. "But you know what, if it's going to help my game, I'm going to do it.
"It's not in the Rules of Golf and it gives me confidence. It doesn't give me an advantage, because anybody can do it."
So Hurst, the savvy veteran, gets the ultimate weekend test of her experience and knowledge. Tseng, already a three-time major champion, is 22. Pressel, with a major of her own, is 23. Blomqvist, a two-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, checks in at 26.
"The longer you have been out and playing -- you get nervous but you don't get as nervous as you used to," Hurst said. "You just go out and play."
And play and play.
For 18 seasons.