New Women's Coach Faces a Challenge as the Waves Break Into Golf

Kerry Hopps doesn't need words to describe the highlights of her golf career.

She simply touches the index finger and thumb on her right hand and forms a zero. The gesture could pass for an OK sign.

"There aren't many," she said of her competitive playing days.

The modest recall is somewhat misleading, however. Her best round is a 70. She never played on the LPGA tour, but she is classified as a club professional.

Growing up in Camarillo, Hopps was introduced to golf by her parents.

After going to Rio Mesa High, Hopps played four years on the golf team at Cal State Northridge. She began working at Woodland Hills Country Club during her freshman year, and six years later was named the head pro.

Back to Amateurs

Starting in the fall, however, she will return to the amateurs to head the new women's golf program at Pepperdine University. Three weeks after her appointment, the Simi Valley resident is preparing for what could be a tough start.

"The first year will be the biggest challenge," she said. "We just have to keep it alive."

That is about all the athletic department at Pepperdine expects from the women's golf program in its first year.

Just fielding a team will be enough for a start. Pepperdine is adding golf and swimming to its list of six women's varsity sports to meet new NCAA standards for Division I status, which require teams in six sports.

Hopps said Pepperdine Athletic Director Wayne Wright expects the first year to be hard. "But a few years down the road, maybe five," she said, "he wants the team to be able to go to nationals, or for a player to get there."

Hopps' most pressing problem will be recruiting. For the 1985-86 season, most four-year colleges have already made their choices. Hopps will pick over their rejects.

"Wayne said they have a girl on the basketball team who is golfing, if it comes to that, but I don't think it will," she said.

Ideal Location

Once she gets a chance to recruit in season, Hopps expects few problems attracting top players to Malibu. "As a school, you couldn't ask for a prettier place to go," she said. "It's a place where you can golf year-round, and there's a ton of courses around to play."

At first, she said, it could be somewhat like her career at Cal State Northridge. After the Matadors won the Southern California Conference title in Hopps' freshman season, they were beset by attrition and struggled for the next three years.

"We started losing players, and that's when we decided to just have fun," she said. "We still tried to be competitive, but all the other schools got stronger."

Community Identification

At Pepperdine, a growing aspect of the athletic program that Hopps will be part of involves community relations. "For three or four years, we've been looking to become an honorary member of a community," said Tim Wilhelm, who as associate athletic director is in charge of the department's promotion and marketing.

"If we were a peninsula, we'd be the tip. We're not downtown and we're not up north by Ventura, but we are just over the hill from the San Fernando Valley."

Unlike her administrators, Hopps is not concerned with the marketing of her program. In fact, if she is stressed by the demands of her new challenge, she is not letting on.

Hopps does not think the coaching position will alter her daily routine much at all.

"Golf is an individual sport, and if they're good enough to come out, they probably have a person they take lessons from," Hopps said. "In golf, you usually stick with one person. It will probably be more watching them practice than any heavy-duty teaching."

In Good Hands

If it takes more, however, Pepperdine thinks it has the women's golf program in the right hands. "To start a program, I can't think of anything better than to hire a club pro," Wilhelm said.

For Hopps, it's just another turn in a long association with golf.

"There's always a shot that brings you back," she said. "You usually remember the good shots and forget the bad ones."

Hopps remembers both.

"I don't know if it's the ugly shot that went for a hole-in one or the good shot that embedded in the back of the cup but didn't go in," she said.

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