Jeff Hart limbered up for the PGA Championship, knowing what was in store.
“It’s a tough test for a 60-year-old man,” Hart said. “It’s like pitching in the major leagues with a 60-mph fastball.”
But Hart showed grit, not by taking the mound but by taking on the PGA Tour’s biggest hitters at the recent PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park.
Solana Beach’s Hart left his heart at the San Francisco municipal course by giving what he had. He was among 20 PGA teaching pros to qualify, but he didn’t make the cut.
On a course built for young men with muscles, the 5-foot-9, 150-pound Hart got sand kicked in his face. Regardless, it couldn’t erase his grin in testing his ageless skills against today’s best.
“When you get old, you lose speed,” Hart said. “It’s just more difficult. We see the trend in professional golf is hitting the ball a long way and overpowering courses and it’s not going to let up.”
After carding the first of his two 5-over par 77s, Hart was realistic.
“I didn’t play too bad, so that should tell you something about the distance,” Hart said.
Too bad Hart’s drives can’t match the length of his road to last week’s PGA Championship, the first major on a PGA Tour that had trouble avoiding the rough with COVID-19.
Hart has been a pro since 1983 after being a two-time All-American at the University of Southern California. Trojans fans scream, “Fight On!” and that’s just what Hart has done on the PGA Tour, the Web.com Tour, the Buy.com Tour, the Nationwide Tour, the Champions Tour and any other organization that offers prize money for striking a dimpled ball.
“I just love the game,” Hart said,
It’s a relationship that sometimes goes both ways.
The sport allowed Hart to earn a nice living while traveling the world. Still, Hart’s name isn’t one to make the game’s marquee and that’s OK with him. He never won on the PGA Tour but his ATM shows nearly $2 million in prize money over a 37-year career.
It’s an occupation that plopped him in the first group at the PGA Championship, and even with Hart’s experience, the field’s oldest player had jitters.
“Butterflies for sure,” Hart said.
Hart floated through the first four holes, carding three pars and a birdie.
“Yeah, the adrenaline was flowing,” Hart said. “It got away from me soon thereafter.”
His 30-foot, par-saving putt on No. 7 was keen but then the course showed its teeth. Hart made the turn at 2-over but his chance for birdies flew away.
“There just aren’t many birdie holes for me,” Hart said. “Maybe five holes I can get the ball close to the pin, maybe six. It’s a tough test.”
Hart’s competitors noted the challenge of performing minus fans. On that front, Hart was miles ahead. When bouncing around various tours, the galleries are usually the players’ family and friends — if that.
“I played in tournaments where there’s nobody around so it’s kind of normal for me,” Hart said. “But it was odd … you didn’t feel like you were at a major championship. We need the fans, as every sport does.”
Golf is lucky to have the classy Hart. Hart was fortunate to add the PGA Championship to his three U.S. Open appearances, although he missed the cut in all of them.
Hart hoisted the trophy in 2000 when winning the Steamtown Classic on the Buy.com Tour and he earned last year’s Southern California PGA Championship.
Hart’s a winner for his perseverance: His 16 appearances in the PGA Qualifying Tournament is a record.
Round and round Hart goes, earning the respect of others with every stroke.