- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Barnett's life took an unexpected turn when, after responding to an ad in Golf World, she landed a sales job with the Del Chemical Corporation. This curious position, for which they gave her $200 a week and a Texaco gas card, called for her to play the vagabond LPGA tour while selling weed killer and fertilizer to course superintendents and cleaning fluids to the hotels she stayed at. "I was off and running," she recalled last week--not to mention screaming, which is what she felt like doing when swollen creeks at her first tournament, in Beaumont, Texas, left venomous water moccasins writhing on the ground.
Barnett survived the snakes and went on to play 10 LPGA seasons, winning the 1971 Southgate Open and tying for second in the 1972 U.S. Women's Open at Winged Foot. Had they given strokes for style, she might have fared even better. She wore love beads and flower-child headbands with orange-and-yellow or purple suede FootJoys, topping off her ensemble with wigs of varying hues. "It was a hippie sort of thing," she explains. "I wore a different wig every day, so I never knew who I was going to be when I showed up." She now wears sober tans, khakis and whites, suggesting that she has come to see consistency as a virtue, though no one accuses her of stodginess.
The fun ended in 1975 on a course in Florida. Facing a daunting shot from the base of a tree on the final hole of a tournament, Barnett took a Tiger Woods--style rip with a six-iron and slammed the club into an above-ground root. "I hit a perfect shot, knocked it on the green and made 4," she recalls. Unfortunately, her hands felt as if they had been run over by a truck. The impact broke bones, damaged tendons, ligaments and nerves, and left blood clots that cut off her circulation. Months of therapy and rest failed to heal the hands, and her LPGA career was over.
Her playing experience, however, informs her teaching --a point not lost on her pupils. "There's a huge difference between having a good swing and being able to play the game," Purdy said at Augusta. "Half the coaches today weren't players at all." The theoretical side of Barnett's teaching has an even better pedigree: She is a prot�g�e of Manuel de la Torre, the legendary Milwaukee club pro and leading disciple of Ernest Jones and his Swing the Clubhead theory. "Pam's swing philosophy is basically what Jones taught," said Purdy. "Centrifugal force generates clubhead speed through the hands and arms. You never make a swing without the target in mind." And the best targets, according to the theory, are not to be found on the practice range but on the course. "I can remember Pam not even letting me hit balls. She'd say, 'Go play.' I'd ask for a lesson, she'd say, 'Go play.' It was always, 'Go learn how to play.'"
Barnett also inherited de la Torre's suspicion of video as a teaching tool. Decades ago, she says, he reluctantly filmed students with a 16-millimeter camera and let them look at their swings on a hand-cranked viewer. "But he would not allow your hand to stop cranking," she says, "because the swing is a motion."
The final Barnett priority is independence --that is, the golfer has to learn to function outside her orbit. "I teach my players to know their own swings and not be totally dependent on me. What if they're in Asia? They have to figure it out."
Nowhere in her dealings is there even a hint of self-promotion. When de la Torre nominated Barnett for Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers list, she labored over the lengthy questionnaire applicants must fill out. Published articles? None. Golf Channel appearances? None. Use of video? None. Patented inventions? None. And surely they would have laughed if she had written down her fee schedule for children. ("If the kids ask, I don't charge them. If the parents ask, it's $20.") When the list came out, Barnett's name appeared in small type as a TOP TEACHER IN THE SOUTHWEST. Which suited her just fine. "I don't want to be David Leadbetter," she says. "I want to be me."
Even last week, as Barnett tutored Purdy at the Masters, her role seemed as much familial as it was tactical. She caddied for him in the Wednesday Par-3 Contest and followed him through 2 1/2 days of rain-interrupted play, which saw her boy shoot 77-78 and miss the cut. At night she stayed with Purdy, his wife, Arlene, and their year-old-son, Samuel, at one of three houses the golfer had rented for friends and family. On Thursday morning, when Purdy reported that he had slept poorly--"I dreamed all night of losing my card," he said--Barnett lent a motherly ear. "He needs to not worry so much about his putting," she said later. She lifted her eyes and hands skyward like a backwoods preacher. "Oh, let those demons go!"
The little devils back at Moon Valley, they're a different proposition. "I hope you continue to teach kids," Purdy recently told Barnett--which struck her as odd, sort of like saying, "I hope you keep breathing." It was only 24 years ago, after all, that her kind attentions to a seven-year-old started her on a trail that led all the way to the Masters.
Next time, though, she might like to have an iced tea on the veranda. And for that she'll need a clubhouse credential.