PARMA HEIGHTS, Ohio - Barb Mucha swears she doesn't have any pink flamingos adorning the front lawn of her Orlando, Fla., home. She also vehemently denies wearing white athletic socks with black pants. The one cultural influence she will admit that her hometown of Parma Heights had on her was a love of ethnic food. "Hungarian," Mucha says. "Pierogies, baklava. I love that stuff."
"And if someone put pink flamingos on my lawn, I wouldn't be offended," she adds.
Of course not. She's proud of where she comes from, proud of the fact that she wasn't a country club kid but instead knocked the ball around at local public courses like Ridgewood, Mastick Woods and Little Met. After all, it was good enough to get her out on the LPGA Tour, for which she's currently playing her 16th season. She may not be a household name, but five victories is nothing to bury your head in a bunker over.
"Not many people have multiple wins," the 41-year-old Mucha says. "Any time you can maintain consistency for 15 to 20 years, you'll find yourself in an elite group of players because a lot of players come and go. Even the years I struggled, I maintained my card and was able to compete."
It sounds almost as though Mucha has a blue-collar work attitude toward her profession, which makes sense. That's the same hard-working, never-give-up attitude that prevailed in the neighborhood she grew up in, where people headed off to the Ford plant or mattress factory with lunch pails in hand every day.
The blue-collar men in her life, her dad and uncle, took their hard-earned money and invested it in Mucha's golf game starting when she was nine years old. Leo Zampedro, then-pro at Ridgewood, saw potential in Barb and took her under his wing. It seemed every year she improved, and, by the time she entered Valley Forge High School, she was playing on an even level with the boys. By her senior year, she was one of the best players on the team.
"I think playing with the boys might have helped me," Mucha says. "I felt like I had the game. In the beginning, I think the boys weren't real keen on having a girl on the team. But once they saw I could play, I gained their respect."
She kept gaining respect through college by finishing as a semifinalist at the 1984 Women's Trans-National and an honorable mention All-American at Michigan State University that same year. She also captured the Illinois State Invitational and the Ohio State Invitational as a collegiate player.
In 1986, Mucha finished in a tie for 46th place at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament to earn her Tour card, but a disappointing year forced her to try to re-qualify. She did just that, this time finishing 29th and earning non-exempt status for the 1989 season. In 1990, she became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the Boston Five Classic and never looked back.
Qualifying for the LPGA Tour in 1986 wasn't like playing a hazardless 130-yard par-3 hole, but Mucha acknowledges that qualifying today would be more like grinding through a 600-yard par-5 with bunkers and water hazards galore.
"The competition has gotten much greater," she says. "Young players coming out of college aren't shooting in the high 70s -- they're shooting par or better."
"In 1987, you only had a few players who could make an impact. Now you've got all types of players of different ages from different countries," she adds.
Oh yeah, namely that woman named, uh, Annika Sorenstam from, uh, Sweden. Mucha has the utmost respect for her and what she's done, but at the same time doesn't judge herself against Sorenstam.
"She's a world-class player, one of the best ever," Mucha says. "But her goals are different than mine, and her work ethic is, too. It's all about what you want. She works very hard at what she does. I might be more lax, and that's OK. If I worked as hard as she did, I'd probably be better, too."
So it comes as no surprise then that unlike Annika, Mucha wouldn't take advantage of an opportunity to play with the men if one came her way.
"My game isn't nearly as good to compete with them," she says. "They're at such a higher level. I would have to work physically, mentally and emotionally to even think about it. I have no desire to."
It's hard enough keeping up with the girls, especially ones like Michelle Wie who now hit it as far as the men. While Mucha values distance, she realizes it's only a good thing if it's paired with accuracy.
"I would love to hit the ball farther, but I'm only going to apply what works for me," she says. "If I hit a new driver consistently well, I'll put it in my bag, but if I'm going to spray the ball but get more distance, then forget it."
Ironically, the higher level of competition on the Tour today is what's keeping Mucha around. She has many options available to her in the future, including television commentary, teaching, and other golf industry opportunities, but so far she has no intentions of trading in her golf bag anytime soon.
"I don't like being on the road, but I still like competing and I can still play," she says. "If I couldn't compete anymore, that would be something else. Hopefully, the women's senior tour will pick up and I can play that in five years."
Taylor Made 520 driver, Ping 3-, 5- and 7-woods, Taylor Made 300 series irons, two Cleveland wedges, Never Compromise putter, Slazenger balls.
August 25, 2003
Jason Stahl currently works for Medquest Communications in Cleveland, Ohio, as Editorial Manager. Prior to joining Medquest, he spent five years with Advanstar Communications as Managing Editor of Landscape Management, a trade magazine covering the professional landscaping business. He graduated from St. Ignatius High School in 1989 and John Carroll University in 1993.
From high-tech gadgets to clever, low-tech stocking stuffers, more great gift ideas have come across my desk this season than in the past five years combined. If you can't find something above for every golfer on your list, I'm going to chalk it up to Grinchiness.
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