Chattanooga, Tenn. – Mina Hardin, 51, looked relaxed and poised. The pressure was off and the veil of stress that made her one of amateur golf’s more intense players has lifted. This week, Hardin is settling into the role of defending champion as easily as she settled into the sofa in a small parlor at The Honors Course clubhouse.
I feel less pressure this year than last year, Hardin said on Friday. Last year, a lot of my friends, such as Anna Schultz, had been to this championship and won it. They said, ‘Oh, you’re going to turn 50, you’re going to do great.’ I felt more pressure to try to do something. I don’t play golf to try to impress anybody or to please anybody but myself. It’s a personal challenge. But I’ve always wanted to win a USGA event so, this year, I have less pressure because I proved to myself that I was able to do this.
In 2010, at 50, the Fort Worth, Texas, resident eased past Alexandra Frazier of Haverford, Pa., 2 and 1, to win the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur. The champion also picked up some new responsibilities. She did a telephone media conference at media day last month, fielding questions via phone after putting her groceries in her car.
At Thursday night’s Players Dinner, she gave the defending champion’s speech, and while her hands shook at the podium Hardin did a fine job and the crowd gave her a nice hand.
Her victory last year was just rewards for years of hard effort. After a brief fling in professional golf, when she became the first Mexican citizen on the LPGA Tour, Hardin regained her amateur status in 1991. She has since played in the U.S. Women’s Amateur 10 times and tried to win the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur 14 times. She’s a fiery and intense competitor, one known to hang her head and slam a club in dissatisfaction over a poor shot. In 2001, she came very close to winning the Women’s Mid-Amateur, finishing as runner-up.
Finally, last year, with her husband Gary Hardin as her caddie, Hardin broke through. After winning on the 17th green, she sank to her knees in gratitude.
In this Senior Women’s Amateur, Hardin will attempt to do what seven players before her have done: repeat.
With golf, we never know what’s going on, said Hardin. I hit the ball pretty decent on Thursday, so we hope it’s good enough on the day of the championship so that I can go out there and give it another run for the trophy.
Hardin’s quest demands her best and two months ago she visited The Honors Course to play practice rounds with Robyn Puckett. Puckett is a member of the club and was runner-up to Schultz in the 2007 Women’s Senior Amateur.
Hardin liked the course the first time she saw it. It just sits well to my eye, she said. I just loved it. I love the terrain, the soft doglegs that it has and the placement that you have to do. It’s one of those courses where, on a couple of holes, I ended up choosing not to hit driver just to set up my second shot a little bit better.
The gently rolling, tree-lined fairways of The Honors Course put a premium on accuracy, but if players hit the ball to the right spot in the fairway, there’s plenty of room. Last year, I only hit two drivers every day, said Hardin. This year, I can hit more drivers. For me, it’s more about placing it in the fairways so I can have a better shot into the green.
A fine iron player, Hardin showed precision with those clubs in 2010. At her home club, Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth, she often plays with male golfers who require her to hit from the back tees. So, I have to hit a lot of medium irons to the par 4s as opposed to playing from the shorter tees where you have to hit 9-irons and wedges most of the time, she said. From the back of the tees, I have to hit a lot of 7-irons, 6-irons and 5-irons to the par 4s, so that keeps my longer irons in shape.
Of course, accurate tee shots to the short grass make those longer irons a bit easier to hit and Hardin is hopeful she’ll do just as well off the tee this year.
Now that she has a gold medal in her pocket, Hardin is spending more time appreciating golf’s more subtle treasures. You have trophies come and go but your friends and memories, no matter what happens in your life, you can always go to your memory bank and smile, she said. There are these great moments you have in your life and you think, ‘Wow, God is good.’
As she prepares to defend her title, she is once again ready to give her best but this time there’s a little less pressure.
I feel comfortable this year, Hardin said. We’ll see what happens because, with golf, you just never know.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of USGA Communications. E-mail her with questions or comments to email@example.com.