Hannah Harrison and Jim McMurtrey have never met but have much in common. You just wouldnt 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, theyre 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 wasnt drawn to the nomadic lifestyle, there are no regrets. For both, there is plenty of good golf still to be played. On the eve Americas 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 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.
Youre tall enough if youre 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.
Hannahs room is awash with golf medals, trophies and tournament dream boards with key words and motivation sayings. Shes 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.
Shes not in the class of Lucy Li, the 11-year-old who recently became the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Womens Open, but she also hasnt spent her summers on the other side of the country in intensive training, as has Li.
Hannah sets her goals, Scott said. Were here to support her and keep a good balance.
Hannah wont be in Pinehurst, N.C., next week for the Womens 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?
Its news when most people shoot their age. Its news when Jim McMurtrey doesnt.
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.
Its easier as you get older, said McMurtrey, now 81 and half serious. In two months, I get another shot.
McMurtrey doesnt 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 didnt take up the game until he was 20 but has been a good player for a long time hes won numerous regional titles, the California Public Links, 26 club championships, including six at Spyglass and two at North Ridge, where hes 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 didnt 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 nations 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, its just not my idea of a good life. Ive had a good career. I cant worry about things that didnt 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.
Hes adapted because, well, hes that good and loves golf that much.
Ive 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 Bees Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526.