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Women's Work
April 18, 2005
Part swing coach, part second mother, Pam Barnett finally made it to the Masters with her longtime student Ted Purdy
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April 18, 2005

Women's Work

Part swing coach, part second mother, Pam Barnett finally made it to the Masters with her longtime student Ted Purdy

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Ted Purdy told her not to worry, but Pam Barnett was a little nervous about her credentials. She'd heard the stories about Augusta National. How there were no woman members. How the club had squashed Martha Burk like a June bug. How gender politics dictated that ladies sip iced tea on the veranda while their men play the great game down in Amen Corner. So it took a little courage for Barnett to fall in behind Purdy and his caddie as they walked through a tree-shaded cordon of guards and autograph seekers and out onto the sunlit sward of the practice range on Tuesday of Masters week. "All I had was these," she explained later, displaying the cardboard daily pass she had picked up at Gate 3 and the LPGA Teaching Professional badge hanging from a cord around her neck. "But there was no problem, they let me right through."

In fact the closest thing to a challenge came from a security guard who asked, "Are you Ted's mother?"

She laughed. "I said, 'I sort of am.'"

And so it passed that a 61-year-old woman who gives $55 lessons at an Arizona country club--when she charges anything at all--took her rightful place next to the iconic pedagogues of golf. Depending on when you visited the Augusta National range last week, you were likely to see David Leadbetter and his famous hat parked behind Charles Howell; Rick Smith and Dave Pelz studying Phil Mickelson's swing from fore and aft, like judges at a dog show; Hank Haney standing with arms folded behind Tiger Woods ... and Pam Barnett, looking tiny and a bit mischievous, giving pointers to Purdy, the 31-year-old pro from Phoenix.

For Purdy, playing in his first Masters thanks to a top 40 finish on the 2004 PGA Tour money list, the gender question has long been, if anything, a source of amusement. ("I tell people my coach is coming," he says, "and the response is always, 'Where is he?'") But if there had been a problem getting Barnett onto the range, Purdy would have stood up for her. She has been his teacher since he was a seven-year-old tripping over buckets on the range at Moon Valley Country Club. More to the point, Barnett has coached a roster of touring pros and top amateurs that includes Tour players Jerry Smith and Jonathan Kaye, Hall of Famer Beth Daniel and numerous other LPGA players, Asian tour stalwarts Jim Rutledge, Gerry Norquist and Mike Cunning, and Pia Nilsson, the Swedish national coach and former Solheim Cup captain.

Why isn't Barnett better known? "She's shy," says one friend. "Doesn't like to travel a lot," says another.

Besides, you don't get famous spending hours with little boys and girls on your club's par-3 course, making sure they replace their divots and don't play swordfight with the bunker rakes. "Pam had a lot to do with raising me," says Purdy, whose mother, JoAnne, died of cancer five years ago. " Beth Daniel calls her mother, too. Pam has two children, me and Beth." The image of Barnett as a driving-range Mary Poppins comes to mind, but Moon Valley's nanny doesn't wield an umbrella; her prop of choice is a cut-down flagstick, which she has her pupils swing to hear the whoosh of acceleration.

Ted's father, Jim, remembers showing his little boy how to sign chits at Moon Valley and promptly regretting it. "I'd get my club bill, and it would be this thick," the father said at Augusta, holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart. "Eighteen buckets of balls and two lessons. I said, 'Who's this Pam Barnett gal?'" Joking, he added, "I never saw Ted after that."

Twenty-four years as Purdy's coach have given Barnett the ability to read his game the way a conductor reads a musical score. That Tuesday, during his first-ever practice round at Augusta National, she couldn't see over a row of spectators when he smacked a loud drive off the 4th tee, but she quickly remarked, "That didn't sound like Ted's swing. Did you notice the difference? That was, like, Pow!" Asked what a Purdy drive was supposed to sound like, she said, "His swing goes Pffffweeeeeet!" She made a whistling sound that rose in pitch and ended abruptly.

You don't develop that kind of ear unless you've swung the club a few times yourself. Barnett was born in Charlotte, where she learned the game from her father, Bill Barnett, the manager of a door manufacturing company, and her maternal grandfather, George L. Thomas, who often took her to the range. ("If I hit a bucket of balls, he'd give me a packet of cheese crackers," says Barnett.) Her home course was Myers Park Country Club, site of the 1954 U.S. Women's Amateur. "It was 13 guys and Pam," she says of her teenage years, when she played as many as 54 holes on summer days. At 15 she won the North Carolina Women's Amateur. She later won the Carolinas Amateur--which would have catapulted her to fame and fortune except for the fact that hardly anybody gave a damn about women's golf. She went to Winthrop College, which had no golf team, and graduated in 1966 with a degree in interior and fashion design--or, as it was then dismissively called, home economics.

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