A hole in Barrett's life

Golf: Gearing up for the LPGA Championship, the former Baltimorean is having a tough time coping with the loss of her teacher, DeDe Owens.

June 24, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The news was more traumatic to Tina Barrett than anything she had faced in her 10 years on the LPGA Tour. The only thing worse would have been something bad happening to her husband or a member of her family back in Baltimore.

Then again, DeDe Owens was like family to Barrett.

It was during a rain delay at last month's Titleholders Championship that Barrett learned of Owens' heart attack and that the 53-year-old golf teacher had lapsed into a coma. Owens would die a week later.

"It's been tough," Barrett said yesterday from Wilmington, Del., where she is preparing for this week's LPGA Championship. "Right now, I'm playing OK, so it's not as bad. I don't think I've realized how it's going to affect me."

Said Dan Friedman, Barrett's husband of seven years, "I don't think she's totally coped with it. She hasn't been through a period of struggling with her swing. That will be a really difficult time. I don't know if she'll totally get over it, really."

Owens, a teaching pro at Cog Hill in Lamont, Ill., who was twice selected Teacher of the Year by the LPGA's Teaching and Club Pro Division, had worked with Barrett for the past nine years. It seemed like a lifetime.

If anyone asked Barrett how long she had worked with Owens, Barrett replied, "Since I've been good."

It was Owens who helped build up Barrett's confidence after Barrett fell from 69th on the money list with $39,776 as a rookie, when she won her only LPGA title, to 121st with $17,867 her second year.

With Owens' guidance, Barrett became a consistent player who finished in the top 35 in five of her next seven seasons, including 19th in 1993. This year she is 33rd, with $125,567. Barrett is a straight but not very long hitter who ranks fifth in driving accuracy.

"She helped me with every aspect of the game," said Barrett, 33. "Mentally, my swing, equipment, everything."

Barrett, who attended Perry Hall High School, lives with her husband and their dog, a yellow Lab named Rosey, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Friedman, a manufacturer's representative for Cleveland Golf, is concerned that the loss of his wife's mentor might have an impact well beyond golf.

"She was another shoulder to lean on," Friedman said. "DeDe taught her a lot about golf, but she also had a great perspective on other things."

Friedman said that Owens was the third person close to Barrett to die this year; earlier she lost two grandparents. "They were both in their 90s," he said. "This was totally unexpected."

In the three tournaments she has played since Owens' death, Barrett has played decently, but not spectacularly. She tied for 16th in the Wegmans Rochester International and missed the cut at the U.S. Women's Open and last week's ShopRite LPGA Classic.

Asked if Owens' death has shaken her confidence, she said, "I don't like to think like that, but who knows? I missed the cut at the Open, but the scores were so low. I shot 1-over and missed by two shots. I kind of look at it as another challenge."

Barrett's career has been a series of challenges, some she has handled and others she is still looking to conquer. After winning the Mitsubishi Motors Ocean State Open as a rookie in 1989, she has not won again.

Getting into contention at the LPGA Championship, which begins today at the DuPont Country Club, would be a new experience for Barrett. It's the only major in which she hasn't been in the hunt at least once.

Barrett has a mixed perspective on her career. Depending on the day, she can be satisfied with her progress since her years at Longwood College in Virginia as a Division II All-American or frustrated by her winless drought.

In reality, she is neither.

"Maybe I shouldn't be so tough on myself," said Barrett. "I've been in the Top 30 the last two years. But we are judged on winning. That's how we're measured. I also feel that there must be more for me than just golf."

She and her husband have started thinking about having a family. Several of Barrett's friends on tour, including Caroline McMillan and Pat Hurst, have recently had children or are expecting.

Her husband said that Owens' death might advance the timetable. "Anytime you have something like that happen, it makes family more important," he said.

Barrett doesn't intend to give up her career if she becomes a mother, and sees role models on the tour. One is Juli Inkster, the 38-year-old mother of two who is coming off her victory at the U.S. Women's Open and seeking a career slam at the LPGA Championship.

Barrett sees the depth in women's golf and the influx of young stars such as Se Ri Pak and Kelli Kuehne, and knows that reaching some of her goals might become more difficult.

"I know sometimes you can play well and finish 10 shots back," she said.

NOTE: Nancy Lopez, who has 48 tour wins, withdrew and will have arthroscopic surgery to remove torn cartilage in her right knee.

Pub Date: 6/24/99

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