When Jane Geddes competed in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open at Chicago Golf Club during July, several strong feelings bubbled to the surface. Above all, she felt extremely grateful that the best senior players in the women's game had the opportunity to compete again in a major championship.
She was also hugely impressed by a course set-up that proved to be both testing and fair for a field that ranged from fifty-somethings, who still play a somewhat regular schedule on the LPGA Tour, to 70-somethings, who compete only four or five times each year at best. And she felt truly honored that Chicago Golf Club, one of the five founding clubs of the United States Golf Association (USGA), was the tournament venue for that very special week.
Fast forward a couple of months and Geddes, a major winner at the 1986 U.S. Women's Open and also at the 1987 Women's PGA Championship, is now gearing up to compete in the October 15-17 Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick Resort in Indiana.
"I registered for the event last Thursday and I am going to try to swing getting there!" Geddes told LPGA.com. "I can't wait. I really want to be there. It's very, very important for my generation of players. French Lick is a little different golf course. It's a Pete Dye design with a different feel, not one of the classic golf courses, but it's very, very challenging. Any time we all get the chance to play competitively, especially when the fields are strong or the stakes are high or the purses are good, it's exciting to be able to do that, to be able to participate in that."
Geddes, who clinched the 1986 U.S. Women’s Open title after an 18-hole playoff against Sally Little, did not compete in the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick last year. However, taking part in the very first U.S. Senior Women's Open proved to be an unforgettable experience for her on a grand scale.
"It's was really, really cool and for it to be held at Chicago Golf Club, I'm not sure that I appreciated it as much as a venue until I got there and played the golf course for the first time. It seemed like it got harder and harder the more I played it," she smiled. "No question, all of us really appreciated how special it was that we got the opportunity to compete in that event on that course.
"It was a perfect venue for us. The course was set up perfectly, I feel like, for how we all play now. And that's not always easy to do on every golf course. I know that for the USGA it was not an easy thing for them to do. Even all of us involved in golf were questioning how they would do it? Did they want to play it short? How would they do that? A lot of it is golf course-specific and they got it right at Chicago Golf Club. It didn't feel short, or compromised in any way. It was super challenging but very fair. Most of the players, regardless of how much they play now or what their age is, probably felt that way."
Geddes has mixed emotions over the introduction of senior major championships for women, feeling frustrated that it took so long in the making but thrilled that these events are now a reality. In stark contrast, the first Senior PGA Championship for men was held in 1937 while the inaugural U.S. Senior Open took place in 1980.
"Of course, we all wish it would have been sooner for the women because we missed a great generation of players ... like Beth Daniel, Patty Sheahan and Nancy Lopez," she said. “If we had these senior major championships 10 years ago, we would have seen an amazing generation of players compete again. But I'm really glad they are now doing it. Our hope is that players now will continue to play into their fifties and will be able to enjoy another major championship, because they are special."
Geddes, an 11-time winner on the LPGA Tour whose banner season came in 1987 when she triumphed five times, grinned when asked how difficult it had been for her to get back into a competitive mind-set for the U.S. Senior Women's Open.
"It's hard, it's hard," said Geddes, who is Executive Director of the LPGA Amateur Golf Association and Chair of WE ARE GOLF’s Women’s Task Force. "I don't play very much now, and when you have a full-time job, it's hard to continue to play and feel like you are competitive. You can play with your friends and you can play at your club but it's different when you tee it up and you have to count every score and it's under pressure on a hard golf course.
"So you try to put it all together and draw from anything you can in your brain around what you did years ago but you can't always do it. All of us laugh about it when we are out there, not knowing exactly how far we hit the club, when we used to hit it to the exact yard. Now it's a range of yards, and so everything is a little bit skewed.
"But everyone out here, senior players included, wants to play well. You hope you get it going and you hope you make a couple of putts and maybe you get on a roll and you get into contention."