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  • Randall Benton /

    Hannah Harrison, 101/2, of Granite Bay, among her many golf trophies at her home on Friday, June 6, 2014.

  • Randall Benton /

    Jim McMurtrey, 81, walks off the first green Friday at Northridge Country Club in Fair Oaks.

  • Randall Benton /

    Hannah Harrison sizes up a shot Friday at a driving range near her family’s home in Granite Bay.

  • Randall Benton /

    Jim McMurtrey, 81, tees off Friday on the first hole at North Ridge, his home course in Fair Oaks.

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Golf Beat: Local amateur golf champions prove game is ageless

Published: Tuesday, Jun. 10, 2014 - 9:33 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Jun. 12, 2014 - 12:23 am

Hannah Harrison and Jim McMurtrey have never met but have much in common. You just wouldn’t know it by looking at them. Hannah is so young she still says her age (10 1/2) in half-year increments. She has braces and completed the fourth grade last week. McMurtrey is 81. He has a back brace and shirts older than a fourth-grader. When it comes to golf, however, they’re peas in a pod: Hannah and McMurtrey are among the best golfers in the nation for their age. For Hannah, who dreams of playing professionally, anything in golf is possible. For McMurtrey, who might have been able to make a career as a touring pro but wasn’t drawn to the nomadic lifestyle, there are no regrets. For both, there is plenty of good golf still to be played. On the eve America’s national golf championships, to be contested in consecutive weeks at the same course for the first time, this Sacramento twosome confirms that golf is a game of a lifetime.

Hannah Harrison

Hannah Harrison stands 4-foot-4 and weighs 50 pounds, making her the smallest student in her class. Her new 41-inch driver is practically as tall as she is.

She won the U.S. Kids Golf California age-group championship last year and recently qualified for the Callaway Junior World Golf Championships with a nine-hole score of 2-under-par 34, not because of physical superiority but with skill, savvy and determination.

“You’re tall enough if you’re good enough,” says Hannah, reciting one of her favorite mantras after a range session at Granite Bay, her home club.

As for being consistently outdriven by bigger competitors, she says: “Long is good. Long and consistent is better.”

Little Hannah, decked out in her pink and purple with dozens of ribbons flowing from her hair, has a chip on her shoulder that serves her well.

Hannah was introduced to golf at age 5 by her father, Scott, a recreational single-digit handicapper. She played in her first tournament when she was 7. While she loves to play, she really craves competition.

“She has great tenacity on the golf course,” Scott said of his budding bulldog.

Hannah’s room is awash with golf medals, trophies and tournament dream boards with key words and motivation sayings. She’s been to the Solheim Cup and Kraft Nabisco Championship, and has pictures with Paula Creamer, her favorite player, and Kelly Tilghman, the Golf Channel broadcaster, on her dresser and wall. Her teddy bear clutches a golf club.

She says she also plays soccer and the guitar, skis and sews, but her room screams golf.

Granite Bay teaching pro Robert Smith works with Hannah on her mental approach, keeping talk about swing mechanics to a minimum. As such, Hannah speaks about the game with a sophistication far beyond her 101/2 years.

Hannah sports the equivalent of a 4 handicap from tees that measure between 4,000 and 4,500 yards for 18 holes. She hits her driver an average of 150 yards and her 9-iron 75 yards.

She’s not in the class of Lucy Li, the 11-year-old who recently became the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open, but she also hasn’t spent her summers on the other side of the country in intensive training, as has Li.

“Hannah sets her goals,” Scott said. “We’re here to support her and keep a good balance.”

Hannah won’t be in Pinehurst, N.C., next week for the Women’s Open, but she will be there in July after qualifying for the U.S. Kids World Championship for the third consecutive year.

After that, who knows?

Jim McMurtrey

It’s news when most people shoot their age. It’s news when Jim McMurtrey doesn’t.

When he was 80, he failed to shoot his age or under once in more than 100 rounds. And that failed round was at Spyglass Hill, one of the most difficult courses in the world.

“It’s easier as you get older,” said McMurtrey, now 81 and half serious. “In two months, I get another shot.”

McMurtrey doesn’t make an intimidating first-tee impression at a slightly built 150 pounds and wearing a brace over his shirt and around his midsection to support his back. An unwitting 6-handicapper would give him three shots a side – and then get whipped straight up.

McMurtrey didn’t take up the game until he was 20 but has been a good player for a long time – he’s won numerous regional titles, the California Public Links, 26 club championships, including six at Spyglass and two at North Ridge, where he’s been a member for 13 years. But his game took off when he turned 50, just after he quit his longtime job with Titleist, which didn’t want its sale representatives taking time off to play.

“My dad died at 42 and never did anything he wanted,” McMurtrey said of his decision.

He hooked up with a more accommodating company and got more serious about golf. As a result, he won the Northern California Senior Amateur a record five times, the California Senior Amateur three times, qualified for 17 United States Golf Association senior national championships and was a force with the Society of Seniors, a national organization of the nation’s best 55-and-over amateurs.

McMurtrey came to know many touring pros during his years as a club rep, and several suggested he could make a living playing professionally on gofthe Senior Tour. In 1989, at one of the five U.S. Senior Opens for which he qualified, McMurtrey was the low amateur and stood on the 18th green alongside winner Orville Moody during award ceremonies at Laurel Valley in Pennsylvania. Moody won $200,000; McMurtrey took home a medal.

Both players were staying at the same motel, and when they returned that evening Moody was packing his van because he had to be in Boston the next morning for an exhibition.

“I thought what a lousy life,” McMurtrey said. “Being away from home that much, it’s just not my idea of a good life. I’ve had a good career. I can’t worry about things that didn’t happen.”

A narrowing of the spinal column and unbearable pain forced McMurtrey to have back surgery at 73. He insisted that the surgeon not fuse any vertebrae because he wanted to maintain his flexibility for golf. The pain returned and three lower vertebra were fused four years later.

He’s adapted because, well, he’s that good and loves golf that much.

“I’ve had to learn to play differently about 10 times,” he said.

McMurtrey plays twice a week at North Ridge. He gets no strokes or sympathy in the scratch game. He shot a 68 with eight birdies last week and won $20.

Life is good.

Call The Bee’s Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526.

Read more articles by Steve Pajak

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