Patty Jensen (Grant, 1969)

Pat JensenPat Jensen

Patty Jensen (Grant, 1969)

July 2023 ~

They say practice makes perfect, but the identity of the first “they” to say it remains something of a mystery. Some ascribe it to Vince Lombardi, while others argue the proverb is so old the legendary coach would have had to have lived to the ripe old age of about 400 to have been the first to utter it. He died at 57.

Pat Jensen - 2017 Ladies' Masters Club Champion

Pat Jensen - 2017 Ladies' Masters Club Champion

This much is clear, however. It wasn’t Pat Jensen (Grant, 1969) who said it. The road to Pat’s long-term success as a golfer, which started in her pre-teens and continues to this day, did not include a lot of detours to the driving range.

“I never really practiced, and even now I don’t like it,” she explains matter of factly. “If I warm up for eight minutes before a round, that’s a lot. But back then, being tall for my age, I always had a distance advantage over other golfers.”

That may have been true, but tall doesn’t drop drives, no matter how long, in the middle of fairways. Tall doesn’t sink a lot of putts. And tall doesn’t imbue one with the kind of nerves and steady play required to lead a high school team to a PIL championship or to place second individually in the Oregon Junior Girls Championship.

So, while it’s doubtful being tall and avoiding practice is a model many successful athletes have followed, nobody can argue it didn’t work for Pat. And golf wasn’t the only sport in which the 2016 inductee into the PIL Hall of Fame excelled. She also has a state 200-freestyle swimming championship to her credit and was named “most athletic girl” by her high school classmates.

Had Pat been able to compete in track and field and tennis, the only other sports offered girls at Grant during the pre-Title IX years, it’s likely there would have been even more accomplishments during her high school career – not to mention more practices to avoid.

But Pat couldn’t avoid swimming or playing golf. Not in the Jensen family. She grew up “right in the middle” of six siblings, and all of them had to swim and play golf.

“Our mother’s rule was we had to be asked to be on the (Northwest YMCA) swim team so she knew we were good enough swimmers that she didn’t have to worry about, or watch over, us,” Pat recalls. “And we had to play golf because that was already paid for.”

Pat’s dad, Robert, an Oregon legislator and state real estate commissioner under then-Governor Mark Hatfield, and her mother, Paula, whose full-time job was kids, had joined Riverside Golf and Country Club because, for one, they both were avid golfers and, for another, with all those kids they were encouraging to golf, it made sound economic sense.

So it was that Pat and her four sisters and two brothers spent much of their youth either swimming at the old Aero Club in downtown Portland or the pool at Jantzen Beach or golfing or, in nicer months, doing both.

“I think my parents had the philosophy that, if we were tired all the time, we couldn’t get into trouble,” says Pat, demonstrating a sense of humor as dry as a fairway bunker. “My mother spent a lot of time being a chauffeur but that was to her advantage since she was making sure all of us fulfilled our energy needs.”

Pat started golfing when she was 7 and benefited greatly from the teaching of Eddie Hogan at Riverside CC, who offered free lessons and discounted equipment. Her dad, a scratch golfer with five holes in one to his credit (Mom had three) was also a primary mentor.

At age 11, Pat won the second Oregon Peewee Golf Tournament she entered. She was already “5-4 or 5-5” by then, meaning her distance advantage had already come into play.

“Starting in second grade my height was 5 feet plus however many inches my grade was,” she says.

In other words, by the time she entered Grant she was 5-9 (she’s just under six feet now) and already shooting 90. As a freshman, she was the No. 1 player on the golf team and also swimming for Grant as well as in other AAU competitions.

By the end of her sophomore year, something had to give. “It was too much of a time suck, so I gave up swimming other than for Grant and, when I did, my golf game improved a lot. Swimming muscles are tighter so when I quit swimming (during golf season) I was able to have a better swing. I went from a 10 handicap to a 4.”

Throughout her four years of high school golf, Pat says, she was “always competitive, but around the state there were a number of young women who were better than me until my senior year. And then it was Mary Budke and me, and it was usually Mary Budke.”

Budke would become one of Oregon’s more accomplished female golfers, winning, among many other titles, three Oregon Junior Girls Championships (including the year Pat took second), a national collegiate individual championship and eight Oregon Amateur Championships.

Pat wound up earning four letters in both golf and swimming, PIL championships in both and that state championship in swimming as a junior. In addition to being named “most athletic girl” by her classmates, she was a high academic achiever as well, being named co-valedictorian in Grant’s 675-student graduating class of 1969.

“I thought that showed I was pretty well rounded,” she says, modestly.

After high school, Pat spent two years at Willamette University, playing golf and adding volleyball just for good measure. She had only played the sport on an intramural level at Grant, and it’s reasonable here to assume her height definitely gave her an advantage.

After her junior year, Pat transferred to Stanford, where she was happily accepted onto the golf team.

“People would ask me if I played on the Stanford golf team and I’d tell them I was the Stanford golf team,” she says. “This was before Title IX (and the introduction of scholarships for women athletes), so they essentially took anyone who walked through the door. I was the only one who walked through the door.”

Pat funded her education with a combination of financial aid and her earnings from a “grueling” but well-paid summer job working the steam press at Jantzen. She credits her parents for influencing her and all her siblings to pursue a college education. But, with seven kids, they made it clear they wouldn’t be able to fund it.

“Dad had always told me I could go to any college I could afford,” she muses.

“There were no scholarships for girls, so good grades were the ticket,” Pat wrote in her online PIL Hall of Fame bio. “With luck and perseverance, six of seven (Jensen children) completed bachelor’s degrees and several went on to earn MBAs.”

Pat’s older brother was an All-American swimmer at the University of Oregon. Another brother was a high jumper on the Ducks track team and later won a master’s world championship in the event, “while he had prostate cancer,” says Pat proudly, adding that her sisters all enjoyed success as athletes as well.

After earning her degree from Stanford, Pat stayed in the Bay Area, working in San Francisco as an insurance actuary until she answered a call from a headhunter that led to her moving to Atlanta, where she finished her career still in the industry.

“I specialized in what I liked to call the less-talented drivers; a lot of people with bad driving records who had been dropped by their insurer,” she says dryly.

Pat Jensen and husband Alan Murray

Pat Jensen and husband Alan Murray

After living away from Oregon for about 40 years, Jensen retired and returned to the area in 2009. She now lives in Camas with her husband, Alan Murray, and is back at Riverside Country Club, golfing every day, often with her adopted daughter, Katie, a developmentally disabled 28-year-old (and one of her and Alan’s three grown children).

“I used to take her out to caddy for me when she was in school because she wasn’t getting much exercise,” Pat says. “She learned all the protocols -- when to talk, when not to talk, how to read traps.”

Pat and Katie have played Special Olympics golf tournaments in Washington and, unsurprisingly, won a state championship.

She was inducted into the PIL Hall of Fame in 2016, two years after being earning the same honor at Grant.

“That was a great honor to join a lot of really accomplished athletes,” she says. “The further back you go, it’s harder to find women who had the opportunity to accomplish much in sports, so it was special to be recognized.”

Long after her high school glory days, Pat has continued to achieve. It took her 45 years of golfing to hit her first hole in one, but now she has three to her credit.

“It took my mom 31 years before she hit her first, and she wound up with three, too. So, I tell people there’s always hope,” Pat says.

She still sports a 12 handicap that was “more like a nine” until she got a case of the putting yips. “I’m shooting terrible scores, trying lots of different things to fix the problem.”

There’s an old, or more likely ancient, proverb about the value of practice that, with another subject, might fit naturally here. But Pat has already achieved a lot of success without adhering to it, so why ditch her tried-and-true strategy at this stage of a pretty darn good game?

Do you know Pat? She can be reached at patjen2@mindspring.com


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