A very short stint washing dishes at a Solana Beach restaurant helped steer Jeff Hart’s career path.
Hart was a junior at Torrey Pines High in the late 1970s when he picked up a part-time job at “Mr. T’s,” a Solana Beach eatery that now goes by “T’s Cafe.”
Hart went on to become a professional golfer, competing on the PGA tour and now the Senior Tour.
“It opened my eyes up a little bit,” Hart said. “It made me realize how much I wanted to play golf and not be a working stiff for the rest of my life.”
Hart picked up the job at the prodding of his parents, who wanted him to work for his own pocket money. The work was much tougher than he expected. Hart quit after a few days.
“I didn’t like it that much, let’s put it that way,” he said.
Hart has been doing what he loves ever since.
After an admittedly unremarkable PGA career, he is now experiencing a career Renaissance on the Senior Tour.
Hart, 53, is ranked tied for 29th on the champions tour in points in what’s already been the most successful year in a career that spans four decades.
He’s placed in the top 20 in five straight champions tour events, with two top-10 performances highlighted by a sixth-place finish in the Constellation Senior Players championship in June.
He also placed eighth at the Senior Open Championship last month.
In the Constellation tournament, Hart finished ahead of Corey Pavin, Tom Lehman, Fred Funk, Tom Kite and Tom Watson, among other notables.
Not bad for a golfer who hadn’t had a top-10 tournament finish since 1987 at the Hattiesburg Deposit Guaranty Classic.
“I’m thankful, lucky and grateful, really, to be doing it at this age, especially since I didn’t have a very good career in my prime years of golf,” Hart said.
“At my age, [golf] is the only sport that I know of that you can pull that off and still make a living at it into your 50s, and there are guys out here that are doing it into their 60s.”
When Hart first started on the PGA tour in 1985, he played in tournaments with Jack Nicklaus in the twilight of his career. Hart was also grouped with Tiger Woods in his PGA debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open in 1986.
Hart is the first to admit he isn’t the same golfer he was when he joined to tour. He’s doesn’t have anywhere near the power he did when he started his professional career, and he now experiences aches and pains associated with arthritis that he acknowledges will likely end his career someday.
Nevertheless, in many ways, he is a better golfer today than he ever was.
“It’s tough to compare, but I would say I’m playing better than I ever did on the regular PGA tour,” Hart said, noting the different conditions played on the senior tour. “I don’t hit the ball as far as I used to and my body’s not as supple or as flexible as it once was, but I was never a long hitter to begin with, so even though I’ve lost some yardage over the years I’ve kind of made up for it other areas.