Moving On Up

Hurst's name appears atop Polo Golf Rankings for last time

The phone rings. Once. Twice. Three times.

Eventually, Koko Hurst, proud mother of 2007 Rolex Junior Player of the Year Vicky Hurst, answers. And before the obligatory salutations are even complete, Koko has something to say.

“I’m glad you called,” she interjects. “She hasn’t turned pro yet. The rumor is that she turned pro already, which isn’t true.” She understands why people would think Vicky’s a professional – she’s been playing like one for quite awhile now. After all, she ended her AJGA career with three consecutive invitational titles.

First came the McDonald’s Betsy Rawls Girls Championship in July when she nearly won wire-to-wire (she was tied for second after the first round but won by five with a 70-67-69—206 tournament total). She won by five again in October at The PING Invitational with the help of a second-round 69, the only round in the 60s the whole week on arguably the AJGA’s toughest venue.

It was when she went out and won the Duramed Futures Tour Qualifying Tournament in early November as an amateur and marched through match play at the Polo Golf Junior Classic that month that the murmurs of Vicky turning professional heightened, almost making the decision a forgone conclusion.

It wasn’t until she showed up at the LPGA’s Qualifying School as a spectator that she revealed her future plans. “I feel like I’m ready, and college isn’t going to help my game,” she said in a Dec. 4 article. “Hopefully I won’t have to come here next year.”

But not so fast. Present and future tenses should not be blurred in this instance. Just because she is going to be a professional doesn’t mean she is a professional.

She isn’t exactly out cashing checks from professional starts, signing agents or inking endorsement deals. In fact, she hasn’t played a round of tournament golf in quite some time, and doesn’t plan to until March, when she’ll officially become professional at the Bright House Networks Open in Lakeland, Fla., the opening event on the Duramed Futures Tour’s 18-tournament schedule. Her entourage? Right now, it’s Koko, who will be accompanying Vicky while she criss-crosses the country with golf clubs in tow.

In the meantime, she’s doing what it takes to be prepared, specifically working on her game and readying herself for a major life change. After all, while a top-five finish on the Futures Tour money list will earn her LPGA card for 2009, it won’t come easy.

“I’ve been working out a lot and practicing with my coach,” she said over the phone at her home in Melbourne, Fla., late last week. “All this work, it’s not only for my golf game, but it’s also so I can get stronger and can keep my game at 100 percent from the start of the tour to the last tournament of the year.”

She’ll also need to come to grips with the reality of no longer being a “normal” 17-year-old. Like the fact that Vicky’s final months of her senior year at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy will largely be spent by correspondence.

And, obviously, gone are her days of competing and excelling in junior events. She is knowingly making a huge step forward in her career, where an off week is a bit more costly than a slip-up at, say, the 2007 U.S. Girls’ Junior where she failed to make match play.

“I’m ready,” she insisted last week. “The AJGA has definitely been a huge part of showing me that I want to play golf for the rest of my life, and I think I’ve proven I can compete at a high level.”

Her memories of earning her first AJGA Invitational berth are still vivid, walking to the range wondering how she was possibly able to play alongside the likes of Morgan Pressel.

It was with the AJGA that she learned to win against the best players from around the world. Along with her Rolex Junior Player of the Year honor this past season, she is credited with seven career AJGA titles, two Rolex Junior All-America First Team selections, and spots on both the Canon Cup East and PING Junior Solheim Cup U.S. Teams.

“I’m nervous about being a pro,” she said. “I mean, this will be the first tournament where I’ll be able to make money, but I’m ready for this new experience, and I’m just excited to start my career.”