Women's Work

Part swing coach, part second mother, Pam Barnett finally made it to the Masters with her longtime student Ted Purdy
April 17, 2005

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.

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 protégée 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.

You don't get famous SPENDING HOURS WITH LITTLE BOYS AND GIRLS, making sure they replace their divots and don't play swordfight with the bunker rakes.

"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."

COLOR PHOTOPhotographs by John Biever BANNER DAY Purdy and Barnett have come a long way in 24 years together. B/W PHOTOLPGA WIGGED OUT Barnett in her '70s heyday. THREE COLOR PHOTOSPhotographs by John Biever HOME ON THE RANGE At Augusta, Barnett tutored Purdy (left), joked with Gary Player (center) and spoke to her mentor, de la Torre. COLOR PHOTOPhotographs by John Biever GREAT RIDE Barnett, who caddied for Purdy during the Par-3 Contest, can even hear the difference when he makes a bad swing.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)