FRENCH LICK, Indiana - The first time Trish Johnson (Virginia Water, Great Britain) pulled up to the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, she knew instantly that the place was special. Johnson posted a 5-under, 67 on Monday in the first-round to build a four-stroke lead at the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship. On a day that featured wind gusts peaking at 33-miles-an-hour, Johnson handled the difficult conditions masterfully and made seven birdies.
Carolyn Hill (Saint Petersburg, Florida) is in second place at 1-under, 71 and Marilyn Lovander (Punta Gorda, Florida) is in third place at even-par. World Golf Hall-of-Famer Betsy King is in a three-way tie for fourth.
“I’m feeling very happy,” said Johnson. “The score reflected how I played. It was a tough day, but I struck the ball really nicely and the wind didn’t affect me too much.”
Johnson, who has three LPGA Tour wins and 18 Ladies European Tour victories, made back-to-back birdies on holes three and four to get her round going. Her lone mistake of the day was a double-bogey on the par-4 sixth, but she responded with a birdie on seven.
Her back nine was stellar. Johnson made birdies on 11, 14, 15 and 18 during a bogey-free inward march. The highlight of the day was an unexpected chip-in birdie on hole 15.
“I got a bit lucky, I hit the drive well, but I let it go into the wind,” explained Johnson. “It ended up in the heavy stuff and I had a flyer in the rough. I hit a wedge to the back of the green. The moment I hit it, I thought ‘oh, that’s nice’ and it just dropped in and that was a major bonus.”
Johnson, 51, posted rounds of 68-71 and outlasted Juli Inkster in a 6-hole playoff last year on the Pete Dye Course to win the Legends Tour Championship.
“This week is massively cool,” said Johnson. “It’s a big event, we’ve got the U.S. Senior Open next year so it’s one of two major events (for us coming up). Everyone wants to win and just because people get older, they don’t less competitive.”
Johnson still plays regularly on the Ladies European Tour (LET). In 2016, she made 15 starts on the LET and finished 52nd on the Order of Merit.
Johnson’s last LPGA Tour win came in 1996 at the Fieldcrest Cannon Classic. She won twice on the LPGA in 1993.
Since she still plays, Johnson’s competitive fire has never waned as she has aged.
“Everyone wants to win the first major,” said Johnson. “The competitive juices never go away, that’s why these women have been such amazing players. I’m still playing full-time, so for me this is a massive bonus. We don’t have a lot of tournaments in Europe so I haven’t played a lot, but I have practiced a lot.”
Johnson’s love affair with French Lick Resort is ongoing.
“What don’t I love about French Lick?,” asked Johnson when she was asked what she likes about the resort. “It’s just a magnificent place, when you look at it, you just think ‘wow, this looks amazing’.”
The $600,000 tournament pursue comes with a $90,000 payday for the winner.
Kris Tschetter Makes First Ace In Tournament Copeition
Kris Tschette (Warrenton, Virginia) has three professional wins under her belt including the 1992 Northgate Computer Classic on the LPGA, but she had never made an ace in tournament competition. That changed on Monday with the first-round of the Senior LPGA Championship.
She made a hole-in-one on the fourth hole with a 7-iron from 160 yards.
“It looked good the whole way and then went in,” said Tschetter. “It was tough out there, I didn’t make another birdie until 18 so it was nice to get two with the ace.”
Tschetter carded a 4-over, 76 and is in a tie for 18th.
Minnesota Head Coach Near Top Of Board
Michele Redman (Plymouth, Minnesota) spends most of her days teaching the game of golf to the next generation of LPGA stars as the head women’s golf coach at Minnesota since 2011.
They ought to pay close attention as this former Indiana University star and 20-year LPGA veteran can still play.
She posted a 1-over, 73 and is in a tie for fourth at the Senior LPGA Championship.
“Hopefully this is just the beginning, it’s great that the LPGA is having the first senior major,” said Redman, who won twice on the LPGA and had 77 top 10’s. “We are just happy to be here, this is a great course and they treat us great.”
Redman finished her college career at Indiana as a four-time All-Big Ten Conference player. She also helped the Hoosiers win two Big Ten Conference titles and is a member of the Indiana University Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame and the National Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“I want to have some time to get back to Bloomington, but I’m not sure if I will,” said Redman. “I do feel like I am home when I am here (French Lick).”
Redman guided the Gophers to three top 10 finishes this year and saw several records fall including the lowest single-season scoring average in program history (Heather Ciskowski, 73.93). She hopes to send some Gophers to the professional ranks in the near future.
“We have a lot of potential, so it is just a matter of how well they do once we get them,” said Redman about developing her players. “I like the direction we are headed, that is for sure.”
Hall-Of-Famer Betsy King In The Hunt
Of the four World Golf Hall of Famers in the field, Betsy King had the best day on Monday. She turned in a 1-over, 73 and stands in a tie for fourth.
“It was a tough day to play, my experience helped and I did a good job judging the wind with club selection,” said King, who won 34 times on the LPGA Tour. “I putted fairly well, I made a couple saves so it was a solid round.”
King spoke highly of the experience and the difficulty of the Pete Dye Course.
“When I look back, I can say I played in the first one,” said King. “We were saying (she played with Laura Davies and Pat Hurst) that this would be a challenging golf course even during the prime of your career. To come out now when I don’t play a lot and you add the wind, it really played like a major tournament.”
King said she doesn’t get nervous anymore on the course and that could be part of the reason for her success.
“I don’t get as nervous now as when I was on the tour,” said King. “I think it is because I don’t have expectations to play well and then I realize because of the way I hit it, I have to be really patient and just grind all day long. I did that today and it paid off.”
Chicago Native Plays Well
Nicole Jeray (Berwyn, Illinois) is still competing regularly on the Symetra Tour and the Legends Tour and it showed on Friday as she posted a 3-over, 75. Jeray was 1-under through 11 holes before hitting a rough patch between 12 and 14. She recovered with four pars to end the day in a tie for 12th.
“Yeah, a lot of these women work full-time and aren’t practicing every day like I am,” said Jeray. “I don’t think they have the recent experience with the nerves as I’m playing 20 tournaments a year. So, I am at an advantage in that respect, but my skills aren’t as high as these other women. I feel like I need the extra advantage.”
Jeray has played in ten Symetra Tour events this year and has played on the qualifying Tour and the LPGA since 1993.
“I am satisfied with my round today, I had it going for awhile and then lost it in the middle of the round. On this course, if you hit it crocked, you can really get in big trouble. I did that and started to panic and then all of a sudden I found it back again and finished strong.”
Jeray was overjoyed to just be in the tournament this week.
“It is super special to be here in French Lick, I never thought that this day would come,” said Jeray. “I’m so happy that they are televising this at an awesome facility. To be playing with these legendary women is amazing.”