Joan Pitcock has never been able to shake her desire to play golf at its highest level.
So virtually 10 years to the day after her last appearance on the LPGA Tour, Pitcock will once again tee it up against the world's best women's golfers in the Marathon Classic, which runs today through Sunday at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, Ohio.
The top two on the LPGA's money list -- Stacy Lewis and Michelle Wie -- join the current Sunnyside Country Club teaching pro and former Clovis West High standout in the 142-player field. Pitcock starts at 10:26 a.m. in a group that includes Kristy McPherson and Cindy LaCrosse.
"It's the only thing I've ever done," said the 47-year-old Pitcock, whose lone victory in a 16-season LPGA career that produced nearly $1.3 million in earnings came at this event in 1996.
"I love golf and love playing at this level. It's a constant challenge. It's not something that ever goes away as a competitor.
"Expectations are slippery for me sometimes, but I feel I've prepared. I'm going to go out there and try and wear a smile a little more than in the past and take advantage of this opportunity."
Pitcock is playing the Marathon Classic on an exemption, granted in part because of her career earnings and status as a past champion at the tournament when it was called the Jamie Farr Classic.
She's also using the tournament as barometer to judge her readiness for joining the Legends Tour, a circuit for women's golfers 45 and older that includes Hall of Famers such as Amy Alcott, Pat Bradley, Beth Daniel, Nancy Lopez and Patty Sheehan.
Pitcock has already been granted a sponsor's exemption for the The Legends Championships on Aug. 13-17 in French Lick, Ind., and hopes to play in the tour's final three events of the season and on into 2015.
"My head is going to be on a swivel the next couple of days; I want to see if I can compete," said Pitcock, who played in two Legends Tour events last year, tying for 17th at the Walgreen Charity Classic and tying for 38th at the Legends Championship. "I need to know now, or else I need to choose another path for my life."
If she doesn't wind up on the Legends Tour, a fallback could be coaching. Pitcock was a volunteer assistant on the Fresno State women's team last season and enjoyed the experience. A return to the Bulldogs this season hasn't been decided yet.
"I've never been turned on by coaching like I was by getting in the trenches like that," Pitcock said. "Now that I have seen the coaching side as well as the teaching side, there might be something out there for me other than playing."
But before she explores any coaching options, Pitcock has a tournament to play this weekend against a field made up of players primarily 20 years her junior.
Pitcock said the game has changed since she last played on the LPGA Tour in 2004. Most of the stars such as Lewis and Wie drive the ball on average 30 yards longer than Pitcock did in her heyday.
"The physical size and strength of the players is much greater than it used to be," said the 5-foot-4 Pitcock, who has 23 top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour.
"They hit it a lot longer than they used to. It's not so much the finesse game of the past. It's been an eye-opener on the range. If I walked up next to Michelle Wie, I'd be like a 10-year-old -- they are big people."
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