It can be described as a hard way to make an easy living. A grit-your-teeth, grind-it-out kind of business.
For Tina Barrett, like the rest of the more than 200 accredited players on the LPGA Tour, golf becomes a challenging game of numbers. Less than three-quarters of that many tournament places, 144, are available, and only the 70 top finishers each week receive part of the purse.
Barrett, 27, has found tour life to be a demanding but rewarding experience.
After attending Perry Hall High School, where she played on the boys' golf team, Barrett went on to Longwood (Va.) College, where she was a golf All-American and a cum laude graduate.
Now, after four years of consistent improvement, she is in the midst of making a dramatic move up the LPGA leader board. Barrett is ranked 13th on the money-winning list with $145,091 so far this year, including four top-10 finishes. She has missed the cut in only one of the 12 events she has played.
Even more impressive: Of 41 rounds this year, she has been under par in 21 of them, best on the tour.
Coming up this week is one of the most prestigious tests in women's golf, the Mazda LPGA Championship at Bethesda Country Club, and, for Barrett, it's not only a coveted title, but also something of a homecoming, with family and friends expected among her gallery.
Dottie Mochrie, the 1992 LPGA Player of the Year, says the quality of Barrett's play has attracted attention. "She is just an excellent striker of the ball," said Mochrie. "I wouldn't be surprised to see Tina win a major tournament at any time. Yes, I believe it'll happen for her."
"She has become a much stronger player," said Barrett's coach, DeDe Owens. "Her game is well-rounded. Why, a couple weeks ago, she only hit five greens and still shot 71, which is amazing recovery skill. Tina has excellent control hitting the wedges. Her swing is more compact and repeatable."
Personally and professionally, the tour, with stops around the country and visits to Europe and Asia, has been a pleasurable adventure. Professional golf led to Barrett's meeting Dan Friedman, once her caddy but soon to be her husband. Friedman, a golf sales representative, and Barrett plan to marry Nov. 27.
Since joining the tour, Barrett has benefited from two other important relationships: her coach, Owens, a former LPGA player, and a sponsorship team of Scranton, Pa., businessmen Dennis Corvo and Angelo Guzzi.
Four years ago, Corvo and Guzzi read Barrett's comments in the Atlantic City (N.J.) Press about the difficulties faced by a young tour player trying to turn putts into profits. Barrett's mother, Norma, was paying the bills while Tina worked to reimburse her. It was a constant struggle.
"About half the players on the tour have contracts of this type," Barrett said. "The backer pays the expenses and, if we win
money, shares in the purses. It eases the pressure of a 3-foot putt on the final hole, like if you have to drop it to make a check.
"The Scranton men heard I was hoping to make a connection and became interested after reading how I represented the typical young golfer trying to survive the weekly cuts."
As for Owens' contributions, when she can't be present to lend assistance, student and teacher talk by telephone. And then it's back to the practice range for Barrett to use the advice and sort out the problem.
Barrett said: "You never want to make major changes. And you need to be careful not to over-practice. The temptation is there to do that. If you do, it can result in ingraining the errors you're trying to eliminate."
"She's a quality person, a joy to work with," Owens said.
Even before she joined the tour, Barrett had at least two strong believers back home -- her mother and Norman Vacovsky, the former pro at Sparrows Point Country Club.
"I knew she had the goods," said Vacovsky. "I watched her in tournaments at Sparrows Point, and it was obvious she had special talent and, just as important, a burning desire to succeed. At the time, she may have been playing a superior rival, but wouldn't give up regardless of how the match was progressing."
Although her checks have been bigger this year because of higher finishes, Barrett hasn't won since the 1989 Rhode Island Ocean State Open. But 90 percent of the tour golfers never have won a tournament, so her achievement as a rookie can't be minimized.
"I didn't know what to expect when I started with the LPGA," Barrett said. "I thought maybe it would be a cutthroat existence, but it's not that way. My lowest point was in the second year, when I was trying to find my game. I quit for a while, backed off three months without playing, and then got going again."
BTC She estimates it costs $1,000 a week to pursue the tour, including travel, lodging, food, caddy fees and incidentals. Equipment companies offer special deals for the better players, and Barrett has agreements to play the Max-Fli ball, wear Nike golf shoes and swing Callaway woods and Ping irons.
"Basically, you are a one-person business operation," she said. "You are in charge of your own ability, making it or failing."
Where: Bethesda Country Club
When: Practice rounds today, as well as a $10,000 Skins competition (Betsy King, Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel teaming up with Mark Rypien, Chip Lohmiller and Earnest Byner); pro-am tomorrow with 72-hole, sudden-death tournament running Thursday-Sunday
Who: A field of 144 players, including defending champion Betsy King, three-time champion and Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez and LPGA Tour pro Tina Barrett of Baltimore.
Tickets: At the gate, ranging from $5 for practice rounds to $30 for clubhouse pass on Sunday
Parking: Shuttles available from Marriott Headquarters on Democracy Boulevard and across the street from Walter Johnson High School on Rock Spring Road.