LINKS LETTER, 2006 ANNUAL EDITION

YOUNG BUT NOT RESTLESS

By Jeff Hopper

Do you want to be a professional athlete?

How about a formula, then? A surefire way to head in that direction. Youth helps. To be young and active and healthy and strong. That’s a good start.

Add to that growing up in perhaps the world’s most sports-crazed nation, Australia. You’re sure to have friends talking up the most recent exploits of rugby stars, tennis heroes, golfers who’ve made their mark: Greg Norman, Karrie Webb, Rachel Hetherington, Adam Scott, Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, and the also-young Aaron Baddeley, a two-time Australian Open champ before he was 20.

Throw in a measure of wanderlust, the desire to see what the world has to offer—especially the United States, where the world’s best athletes receive the world’s highest pay for their achievements.

To these great advantages, churn in more than your fair share of natural ability, a ton of hard work, good coaching, and raw competitive desire—the things that make all professional athletes the world’s best.

Stir all this in one large pot, and whom do you get?

Katherine Hull.

Just 23 years old as the calendar flipped its way into 2006, Hull parlayed strong showings at the 2005 Canadian Women’s Open and the Office Depot Championship in her first full season into a return trip for this year, 55th on the money list with more than $200,000 in earnings. Her rookie year, a partial campaign after slipping through qualifying school, featured two top 10s as well, and paychecks totaling more than $150,000.

Yes, Katherine Hull may be young, but she’s done an awful lot already to show that she has staying power, to show she is as solid as a time-tested veteran.

But oh, how effervescent!

It sounds like a cliché, perhaps, or a copout. Young and effervescent. But one meeting with Katherine Hull, one read of her broad frequent smile, one waft of her spirited voice, and you’ll be convinced. Every adjective of youthfulness and vibrancy applies to Katherine Hull.

It’s the way she wants it. She embraces her youth and yet pushes, pushes, pushes toward maturity.”

One verse that has resonated with me this year,” Hull will tell you, “is 1 Timothy 4:12, ‘Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in faith, and in purity.’ “And that’s another thing about Katherine Hull: she’s not afraid to talk about where her direction comes from. She keeps going back to God.

She didn’t always do this. Raised in Australia’s Queensland province, Hull’s sister was struggling in school. So when Katherine was in the fifth grade, her parents moved Katherine and her sister to a private Lutheran school. While the Hulls were not normally churchgoers, they saw an educational opportunity for their daughters in the parochial setting. But Katherine allowed the influence of her teachers to stretch beyond the academics and into the spiritual realm.”

We had Christian Living classes twice a week and we’d do class devotionals three mornings a week,” she recalls. “Then we had assembly one morning and chapel one morning. So I got to learn about Jesus pretty much through school.”

All the teachers were very supportive. I had friends who knew about Jesus, but they weren’t really active in their faith. I mean, they believed, but they didn’t ‘walk the walk.’ The teachers were encouraging, but obviously it was completely Jesus working in my life, so I have Him to thank for it all.

“By “it all,” Hull would certainly include the experiences she has had in golf, which began when she was 12 years old.

“I caddied for my dad in a club vs. club tournament and on the way home he asked me if I wanted to try golf,” she says, obviously enjoying the memory. “Growing up in Australia, you play every sport imaginable. I was a big sports freak, so I decided to give it a try.”

Hull was hooked almost instantly, and she was soon filling her afternoons with practice and play. Within a couple of months, she began to enter junior events. And another stellar memory was made: “I think I won my first big tournament, which was kind of nice.” Ah, understatement.

By the time she was in her final year of high school, Hull had her eyes set on America. During her junior year, she had ordered a college golf guidebook and began with a list of 60 schools. Enjoying mild weather, she reduced her choices to schools in California, Arizona and Florida. Then she hit the Internet to find out more and eventually sent her resume to 10 schools—six in California, two in Arizona, and two in Florida.

Then in her senior year, Hull traveled to San Diego to play the Junior World event. While there, she met with several coaches and whittled down her choices again. But her first visit after the tournament was up the coast in Malibu, home of Pepperdine University.

Hull remembers that visit well. “As soon as I walked on the campus, I felt that was where God wanted me to go. It was a small Christian school. I didn’t really want to come to a country that I wasn’t familiar with and be amongst 40,000 students and not know my professors and all that sort of thing. So it was a perfect fit in terms of being small and Christian. The fact that it was on the West Coast meant that it was easier for getting home to Australia. My parents liked that better, too. In a nutshell, Pepperdine offered the whole package.”

In return, Hull gave Pepperdine the whole package, too. She won eight collegiate tournaments, was named All-America in 2002 and 2003, and at the close of that 2003 season she was named NCAA College Player of the Year. The Waves, meanwhile, were runners up for the national title.

In December 2003, after a fall campaign on the Futures Tour that included two wins, Hull eked through the LPGA Tour’s Qualifying Tournament, earning her non-exempt playing privileges in her first attempt.

It was mid-May before she qualified for her first event, and then she failed to make the cut. After four other weaker showings, Hull put in a steady effort at the Wegmans Rochester Classic, where she finished 14th in late June. Three weeks later, she was sixth at the Giant Eagle Classic, and she was on her way.

Give her stats a look and you won’t find much worth noting. Hull is outside the top 100 in driving distance and outside the top 100 in scoring. Her putting makes the top 100, but not by much. So how has she been able to put together finishes like her runner-up prize at 2005’s Canadian Women’s Open?

“I’m not one of the best ball strikers out there,” Hull admits, “but I know how to score. I never give up. I’m so competitive. Sometimes I can try and end up forcing it, but I think I’m the biggest fighter out there.”

Fight is one key aspect any young player will need in the years ahead on the LPGA Tour. While Hull’s game was honed in college, many young women are heading straight to the Tour and finding success. Nineteen-year-old Paula Creamer was the Tour’s second leading money winner in 2005 behind Annika Sorenstam. Mexico’s 24-year-old Lorena Ochoa has already won three times and was fourth on the money list in 2005. Chile’s Nicole Perrot, just 22, won late in the season. And super amateurs Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie turned professional last fall, both having made great runs at the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open. When the LPGA declares that “These Girls Rock,” the emphasis is clearly on girls.

So Hull will look to events like last July’s Canadian Open to build her confidence in her budding career. Not that she can recreate the circumstances.

While Hull arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Monday, her clubs trailed two days behind, coming in on Wednesday night. More than 20 players found themselves in the same predicament.

“Everyone was flipping out, kind of worried,” Hull says. ” ‘Are we going to get our clubs? Where are they?’ No one could really locate them.

“I was obviously concerned at first as to where they were, but then I was, ‘You know what? All my worrying is not going to do anything. It’s not going to help my clubs get here any faster. So I’m just going to let it be and enjoy being in a different country and when they arrive, they arrive.’ “She played her Tuesday practice round with a rental set, then practiced on the range with the same set on Wednesday.

Her first two rounds were “OK,” in her assessment. But then she had to make a critical decision. “I felt my caddie’s attitude wasn’t quite what I wanted and what I needed for the weekend, so I actually fired him on Friday afternoon. Then Stephanie Louden’s husband Mike caddied for me on the weekend. Steph’s a believer and Mike’s young in the faith too, so it was really great to have him on the bag and kind of share it with someone who’s kind of new in their faith. We had a great time, and obviously it was part of God’s plan for that to happen.”

Hull shot 3-under 69 on Saturday to move into 13th place, then 69 again on Sunday to climb all the way to the runner-up spot, just a shot behind first-time winner Meena Lee. It was Hull’s best finish on Tour as well.

“It’s amazing how things work out,” she laughs. “It was a weird week—no clubs, no practice, fire the caddie. Not your usual week on Tour.”But it was a week that caused Hull to fly high. She sat in the interview room on Sunday afternoon and told reporters that she was hitting the ball as well as ever. Certainly the weeks ahead would be even better.–But golf offers no certainties.

In Columbus, Ohio, just a few weeks after the Canadian Open, Hull missed her third straight cut. She had not played on a weekend since Halifax.

“I started thinking, Golf stinks,” she admits. “I realized that there was no point in trying to figure the game out, because the more you try, the more you’re not going to figure it out. I thought to myself, What’s meant to be will be. I’ve just got to stay focused and maybe this is a sign that I need to work harder.” But more than that was going on, Hull says—something she calls “a spiritual attack.” She looked for help. “That week, especially, I learned how to deal with that, talking to other believers about it, and to Cris (Stevens, the LPGA chaplain). But as usual, God’s strength is bigger than anything in this world, and I was able to get through it and play well in L.A.”

Sure enough, Los Angeles brought familiar territory. Friends from Pepperdine came out to watch Hull at the Office Depot Championship. And in an event delayed several times by freakish fog, Hull emerged from five consecutive missed cuts to tie for sixth. With two strong finishes, despite true golfer’s misery to fill the in-between, Hull’s season was catapulted forward.

And if such a stretch would spell go figure for golf fans like you and me, imagine what it did for Hull. For in spite of her carefree demeanor, she is also a bundle of introspection. But hers isn’t the navel-gazing kind of self-examination. Instead, she looks toward God and says, in so many words, “Who am I?” It may be a universal question, but Hull feels good that she has found some answers—and they are directly connected to who God would have her be.

“I think the best way to do God’s will is to read His Word,” she says, moving into her most comfortable line of conversation. “If you can put yourself in an environment where you’re constantly being fed and constantly reading the Bible, it’s going to help you avoid areas that you know you’re weak in.”

There’s a lot of pressure amongst youth now. A lot of it comes from the media, obviously through movies and TV. We’re seeing how not to live the Christian life.”

And there it is again, that surprising maturity. It comes for Hull not only looking at herself, but looking to others too. First there are her friends of faith. “The more I grow in my faith,” she says, “the more I try to surround myself with other Christians.” She wants the support, the encouragement.

But there are times as well when Hull knows she must be the one doing the encouraging. Especially among her peers. Especially at home in Australia. “I don’t get the support to be active in my faith down there. That’s when I need to—for myself and for God—try even harder to read the Word and go to church and witness. I definitely think God has something for me to do down there because it is not a very religious nation.

“It’s hard not to take a stand for something you believe so passionately about,” she explains. “It all stems from Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He’s the One that’s working through us. It’s hard not to let that go, let that shine.”

How much harder it must be for someone as pumped as Hull, as fired up, as youthful. How much harder for someone with so much fight.

So where do we go from here? A word like perspective seems much too easy to toss around. But it fits Katherine Hull. She learns as much from defeat as from victory. And she knows that this life is only the beginning.

“With as many secular things as there are going on in the world, it’s a hard thing to follow God’s Word everyday and look out for what His will is,” Hull confesses. She clings to a counterbalance. “But ultimately the reward of heaven is going to be better than anything else we could imagine.

“I know the idea of heaven is hard to imagine for some people, but God has told us from the beginning that earth is not our home. As much as we’re going to have struggles and trials here, that’s what we have to focus on and that’s how we get by.”

The words of a youth to look up to.

COPYRIGHT 2006 LINKS PLAYERS INTERNATIONAL

  • Katherine (Hull) Kirk

    3 LPGA Wins: 2008 CN Canadian Women’s Open, 2010 Navistar Classic, 2017 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic

    1 International Win: 2009 Australian Ladies Masters