Tracy Hanson Life on the LPGA tour K ENT, Wash. Professional golfers don’t always work under the comfort of a warm sun and between rivers of reverent fans.
It only seems that way to those who watch the final rounds of a major championship from the comfort of their living room on summer Sunday afternoons. In reality, there is a thing called Thursday morning, a professional golfer’s answer to every working stiff’s Monday.
And there is a thing called an early first-round tee time that often leaves those unfortunate enough to draw one laboring in the damp chill of morning on nearly deserted, dew-drenched fairways, darkened by the ominous shadows of towering pines.
Now, throw in a bad back and the scarcity of sunbreaks around Seattle on an overcast September day, and it’s easy to understand why Rathdrum, Idaho’s Tracy Hanson didn’t have much fun during Thursday’s opening round of the 15th annual LPGA Safeco Classic golf tournament at Meridian Valley Country Club.
“Four-over (par) and ugly,” was how Hanson described her opening-round 76 to a fellow competitor.
What she neglected to add was “painful” - both for herself and her mother Marcella, who was among the 20-plus spectators following her daughter’s threesome throughout most of its trek around the hilly, physically demanding 6,241-yard layout.
Hanson, 25, a former golf and basketball star at Lakeland High School, has been troubled for the past month by back spasms that she said might be related to a herniated disc that required surgery back in June of 1993.
At the time, she had just capped a splendid collegiate career at San Jose State that included a 1992 NCAA team championship.
“I don’t know if I’ve done something again, or if its just the old problem acting up,” Hanson said while gingerly making her way to the LPGA’s on-site training tent for treatment. “We’ll go stretch it and try to get some of the spasms out.”
If treatment fails, the 1991 U.S. Public Links champion and member of America’s 1992 Curtis Cup team, probably will miss the cut in this $550,000 event, which ranks as one of Hanson’s favorites because of its proximity to her parents’ home at Twin Lakes Village.
Hanson ranks No. 27 on the LPGA’s official money list with earnings of $175,895.
Her first-round score left her 11 strokes behind Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan, who opened the tournament with a 7-under-par 65.
“I honestly don’t know how she’s playing,” Marcella Hanson said of the younger of her two daughters, who is in her third year as a touring professional. “It hurts me just to watch. “
Despite showing obvious signs of her pain - stretching between shots, finishing each swing with an abrupt upward lunge, walking like Baloo The Bear and grimacing nearly every time she bent over to tee up her ball - Hanson managed to outdistance her playing partners, Rosie Jones and Missie McGeorge, with almost every tee shot.
But she three-putted three times for bogeys and failed to make a birdie during a round that left her mother shaking her head.
“She’s not getting through the ball, not getting everything out of each shot like she can,” said Marcella Hanson, who helps her husband Tom with the family’s real estate appraisal business. She hadn’t seen her daughter since the first weekend in August, when she finished a disappointing 80th in the de Maurier Ltd. Classic in Edmonton, Alberta.
“I haven’t seen her since her back got like this again.”
If Hanson can’t shake the spasms, her back problems will dampen what was planned as a big weekend for several close relatives, including her father, and her fiance, Ron Hannon. They were expected to fly in late Thursday afternoon to watch the final three rounds of the 72-hole tournament.
“They’re all flying in today and here we are not playing very well,” lamented Hanson’s mother.
Hanson, a powerfully built 5-foot-7, blue-eyed blonde, said she will probably need to shoot at least a couple of strokes under par today to qualify for the final two rounds on Saturday and Sunday.
The top 70 players, plus ties, after today’s second round will make the cut.
“I probably have to get a couple (strokes) back tomorrow,” Hanson said. “I probably need to get back to 2 or 3 (over par), but probably 2.”
Can she do it?
“It’s doable,” she claimed. “I just have to keep hitting greens and fairways and hope I make a couple of putts.”
Can she do it if the back spasms persist?
“That depends on how much I can stay in it mentally,” admitted Hanson, who planned on meeting up with her friends and relatives for dinner after getting treatment on her back. “You definitely have to grind harder, because you know it’s going to hurt.”
Hanson’s caddy, Kenny Struckman, noting that she didn’t get off the course until after 7 p.m. following Wednesday’s Pro-Am event and was on the practice range by 7 a.m. Thursday, said today’s 12:20 p.m. tee time should help.
“We’re lucky enough that we’ve got the late tee time tomorrow, so she’ll have more time to prepare and loosen up,” he explained. “That’s the main thing - get her loose by the time she gets to that first tee.”
Struckman, who has caddied on the LPGA and European Tours for 11 years, said Hanson has changed her warm-up routine since her back problems recurred several weeks ago.
“We used to go to the (driving) range first, then putt and then go to the (first) tee,” he said. “A few weeks ago, we changed it to where now she’ll putt and then go to the range, so she can go directly from there to the golf course without tightening up.”
Struckman, who has also caddied for LPGA veterans JoAnne Carner, Laura Davies and Helen Alfredsson, said he suspects Hanson’s back problems are related to the physical demands of the tour.
“I don’t think it’s the fact that it’s getting worse,” he said, “it’s just that you’re getting tired after playing for almost a full year. Everybody starts to wear down and all of your past injuries start to flare up.
“We need to make a little bit of a move tomorrow, but at least we’re not getting up at 6 o’clock in the morning.”
Like every other working stiff.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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