After paying her dues, Barrett is cashing in

John Steadman

March 11, 1991|By John Steadman

Life on the professional golf tour for any man or woma straining to reach the top of the leader board is an unending struggle. Frustration and pain compounds itself. The search for a consistent swing, one that rings the cash register, creates devilish torment.

Tina Barrett, 24, knows the discouraging experience of suffering punishment while in constant pursuit of pars, birdies and a piece of the prize. She led going into the final round of the Inamori Classic in Poway, Calif., yesterday and came away with a 1-over-par 73 that added up to a total of 282 and left her in a fourth-place tie. Still, the overall showing was praiseworthy.

Her check for $19,000 is appropriate compensation, but the way she held up against such prominent performers as Laura Davies, the ultimate winner; Judy Dickinson, Hollis Stacy, Patti Rizzo, Colleen Walker and some of the others in the 144-player field offered encouragement and a measure of pleasure.

On the Baltimore home front, her mother, Mrs. Norma Barrett, was applauding. "I would have loved for her to have won, but I'll take all the top-five finishes you can count. She has a positive attitude and that's what pleases me the most."

Some additional comfort is provided by the fact she now has a contract with a sponsor that guarantees expenses. This frees Tina's mind and bank account from the pressures of straining to pay escalating tour-related bills for travel, hotels and sustenance. Having the new support -- as offered by Dennis Corvo and Angelo Guzzi, two so-called angels from Keystone, Pa. -- eases the financial intimidation, which should make for more consistent scores.

"Her game is there," said Norm Vacovsky, who was the head professional at the Sparrows Point Country Club, Barrett's home base. "She made three of five cuts and had the tie [for fourth yesterday]. It's early in the schedule. I watched her practice some last fall and just reinforced a couple of fundamentals. Then she went off to Florida and Arizona to hit balls, and continues to improve."

Much of her offseason help came from Dee Dee Owens, recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country. "She helped my set-up, grip and alignment," Barrett said after yesterday's round. "I'm back on plane. I'm hitting the ball better." seeking to reach her maximum, where the mental and physical part of golf must be integrated, she also has worked with a sports psychologist, as have so many others on the LPGA and PGA tours.

Tiny Tina, 5 feet 4, is a student of the game, which is no surprise. At Perry Hall High, class of 1984, and Longwood (Va.) College, she excelled scholastically. Graduating cum laude from

Longwood with a business administration degree, she made the dean's list five times and was an academic All-American three years. In the classroom, shattering par was never a problem.

The $19,000 she earned for the tournament at the Stoneridge Country Club in Poway, north of San Diego, amounted to more than she won all of last year ($17,867). In 1989, while a rookie, she scored her only victory as a professional, the Ocean State Open in Rhode Island.

But stop to consider how comparatively few men and women, fighting the intense competition and the talent of the tour, ever win an event of any kind. Tina Barrett, most emphatically, is ahead of the game. The best is yet to come. Her potential is such that Karsten Manufacturing Co., producers of Ping Clubs, added her to its staff. She wears Nike shoes, wears a Footjoy glove, and hits the Titleist ball. Another company, H.G. Preferred, has talked to her about wearing its clothes. It means Barrett is gaining attention and will benefit from the interest her golf game is creating.

"Two pros who helped me in Baltimore were Chris Peddicord, who is on the Ben Hogan Tour, and Norm Vacovsky," she said yesterday. "Last year was bad but maybe a blessing in disguise. I re-evaluated everything and realized my goals are still a few years away. Laura Davies had a great 67 to win. It's pleasing to know I didn't shoot myself out of it."

So now Tina Barrett, realizing it's a waste of time if you can't find the right swing, heads off for the next tour stop, Las Vegas, and most of those that follow. At 24, intelligent and gaining self-assurance, her golf adventure begins to look more inviting and prosperous. Low scores are correlated to high checks.

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