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Klass Had It Rough as a 10-Year-Old Pro

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Times Staff Writer

Long before Michelle Wie -- and long before Morgan Pressel qualified for the U.S. Open at 12 in 2001 -- Beverly Klass was the original girl golf prodigy.

Klass turned professional as a 10-year-old in 1967 and played in the U.S. Open that year, competing in four tournaments (making the cut in three) before the LPGA barred her by instituting a minimum age of 18.

“That’s why these girls can’t turn pro,” said Klass, 48, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley and is now a part-time golf instructor in Boynton Beach, Fla.

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Her pro debut was a difficult one, complicated by an abusive father, she said.

“I was being pushed by my father and not wanted by fellow competitors -- brutally pushed by my father,” Klass said. “The normal beatings. Not every day, but if you didn’t practice, that type of thing, or if you hit a bad shot.”

Jack Klass, who died more than 20 years ago, would strike his daughter with a belt and curse at her, she said.

Klass returned to the LPGA in 1976 after winning more than 25 city and state amateur tournaments and attending Pierce College. But she never won an official LPGA tournament -- she had one unofficial victory -- before retiring in 1988 at 31.

She underwent a lot of counseling over the years, Klass said, and her adjustment to ordinary life after she stopped playing was difficult.

“I didn’t have very good relationship skills. I was known as Beverly the golfer, not Beverly the person,” she said. “I thought if I ceased to golf, I would cease to exist.”

She watches the current generation closely.

“I think [the minimum age] should be changed to a little lower -- if they can play, if they’re able to beat the pros,” she said.

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“Actually, the more I see them, the more I want to get back out there.”

Last year, after a long layoff, the girl who played in the U.S. Open four decades ago at 10 played in an event on the Futures Tour, the LPGA’s developmental tour, but failed to make the cut.

“I feel I have some unfinished business,” she said. “When I was out there, I used to smoke cigarettes. Now I don’t. I feel I could have done better.

“I know I could have done better.”

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