Pam Barnett finally made it to the Masters
with her longtime student Ted Purdy
By John Garrity
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
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
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.