One of the many joys of the Senior LPGA Championship presented by Old National Bank is that the tournament is part reunion and all competition. Of the 81 players who started only a few – think Laura Davies, Juli Inkster, Catriona Matthew and Trish Johnson — are still active relatively full-time in tournament golf. The rest don’t see each other all that much.
And the rest also don’t have that much opportunity to get ready for tournament play. The one thing you can’t practice on the range is pressure. That experience only comes in the heat of competition. So most of those trying to win this week on The Pete Dye Course at French Lick are putting their feet to the fire for the first time in a long time.
But what if that were all to change? The Senior LPGA Championship is the grandma of senior majors for women and this is only its second year. In July, it was joined by the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open. And that raises some interesting possibilities.
When the USGA created the U.S. Senior Open in 1980 it led to the Senior Tour, which is now the PGA Tour Champions. At a time when all the stakeholders in golf are focusing on growing the game, women have been moved to a front burner. The potential for growth on both a recreational and professional level is enormous.
Certainly, both the LPGA and the Symetra Tour continue to grow prize money and present robust tournament schedules. Just as certainly, those players 45 and older would love to have a place for senior women to compete.
“I’m sure glad I’m not coming along today,” Hall of Famer Juli Inkster says about the quality of talent on the LPGA. But Inkster, 58, is not ready to hang up her spikes, playing in 11 LPGA events this year plus the U.S. Senior Women's Open, where she was second to Davies, and the Senior LPGA. She is, however, realistic about her chances of beating the talented group of youngsters on tour. She’d love a senior circuit.
“A perfect schedule would be about six tournaments and a couple of one-day pro-ams,” she said. “None of us really want to travel a full season schedule anymore.”
Danielle Ammaccapane, who finished fourth at the U.S. Senior Women's Open and is competing this week at French Lick, said she got ready for both events by playing in some satellite tour events in the Southwest.
“It’s hard to walk right in and get back into tournament pressure,” Ammaccapane said. “But I love competing. We need a place to play. And you can tell from the fan reaction that they’d love to have an opportunity to see some of the legends of the game compete.”
A modest proposal would be to have four events – perhaps every other week or every third week – leading up to the U.S. Senior Women's Open and then four more events on a similar schedule leading up to the Senior LPGA Championship.
“It’s like a reunion,” Nancy Scranton, who had to drop out because of a pinched nerve, said of the atmosphere at the Senior LPGA. “But everyone wants to play really well because we are competitors. It’s just that we don’t have much opportunity to play.”
All you need to do is look at the leaderboard at the Senior LPGA to see the star power looking for a place to play: Davies, who won the U.S. Senior Women’s Open by 10 strokes, Inkster, Liselotte Neumann, Helen Alfredsson, Ammaccapane, Rosie Jones and defending Senior LPGA champ Trish Johnson, to name a few.
There is other star power in the pipeline. Se Ri Pak, the godmother of Korean women’s golf, will be 45 – the minimum age for the Senior LPGA – in 2022. Two other early Korean stars are Hee-Won Han, 40, and My Hyun Kim, 41.
And what if the biggest piece of the puzzle were to fall into place. Annika Sorenstam, whose 72 LPGA victories included 10 major championships, is 48. Might she want to add the U.S. Senior Women’s Open to the three U.S. Women’s Opens she won when she hits the minimum age of 50 for that event?
And if Sorenstam, who has been gone from competitive golf for 10 years, gets that appetite back – maybe to show her son and daughter how Mom used to play – might she then add the Senior LPGA to the three LPGA Championships she won and prepare by penciling in some other senior events to her dance card?
The last 15 months have been a great stretch for the growth of women’s golf. The Senior LPGA Championship was first played in July, 2017, then the U.S. Senior Women’s Open came on board this July. And now we are at the second Senior LPGA with a host in French Lick that has embraced the first senior women’s major championship in a major way.
There is a feeling, and certainly a hope, among those 81 who teed it for Monday’s first round at The Pete Dye Course that this could be the start of something big. Certainly, the quality of play has justified that optimism.