When Laura Davies won the 1996 LPGA Championship she simply overpowered DuPont Country Club in cold, wet, windy weather. It was déjà vu all over again Monday at the Senior LPGA Championship presented by Old National Bank. Davies was more than a match for The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, the 80 others in the field and the elements as she grabbed the first-round lead with a 68 that could have been lower.
The 55-year-old Englishwoman, who earlier this year added the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open to the four LPGA majors she’s won, is one stroke head of Juli Inkster, Liselotte Neumann and Maria McBride despite finishing bogey-bogey without, she says, “hitting one bad shot on those two holes.”
Two strokes back at 70 is Jane Crafter with Moira Dunn-Bohls, Jackie Gallagher-Smith and Vicki Goetz-Ackermann at one-under-par 71. The defending champ, Trish Johnson, is at 73.
The thermometer said the temperature was in the high 40s but the dampness that chilled the skin and the wind that cut to the bone made it feel a lot colder. The weather led to rounds over 5 hours and 30 minutes and that made the cold even more punishing. Indiana, the Hoosier State, was more the freezer state on Monday.
While the sun is penciled in to make an appearance the next two days, the forecast is for it to remain brisk for the duration of the 54-hole event. More than one player shook their head Monday morning and said: “This is Dame Laura’s weather.” They had that right.
“I played really well,” said Davies, who at times wrapped herself in a blanket while she waited between shots. “It was cold for everyone out there,” said Davies, who closed with a 66 to win the Senior Women’s Open by 10 strokes in July. “I’m still going to play aggressive [in the second round],” she said. “You need to go in with short irons to these greens.”
Davies had gotten to six under par then finished with two bogeys, the final one coming despite a two-stroke lost ball penalty on the par-5 18th. “I thought I had a perfect line off the tee,” Davies said. “But we never found the ball. I made a birdie on the second ball so it was good not to end with a double bogey.”
Maria McBride, formerly Maria Hjorth before she married Shaun McBride, is the youngest player in the field as Monday was her 45th birthday. “I was lucky the tournament changed dates,” McBride said, being perhaps the only player in the field glad the tournament was move from last year’s July date to October.
“I’m super happy with the way I played,” said Neumann. “It was difficult staying warm, especially with the standing around. I just stayed patient. The course wasn’t set up long but the conditions were difficult.”
Inkster, who finished second to Davies in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, finished her round with an eagle on No. 18 after missing the 17th green and making bogey. “I missed the green with a 9-iron,” Inkster said. “As old was I am I still get made and I crushed that drive on 18.”
She hit her 3-wood second shot to 15 feet and made the eagle put. “I drove the ball well,” she said. “I think I missed one fairway. I just have to hit it closer to the hole tomorrow.”
Inkster can only shake her head in admiration when she talks of Davies. “She’s a great athlete,” Inkster said. “Ping pong, tennis, pool, soccer. She’s got great hands.”
The forecast says the temperature at 9 a.m. on Tuesday will start with a 3 – as in the 30s – and there is a frost warning for overnight. The good news is that the rain is gone, the wind will be less and the sun will make it feel warmer, which will be a welcome relief after Monday’s opening round.
“The weather conditions were incredibly challenging given the difficulty of the golf course,” Crafter said. “It’s hard to get our old bodies moving.”
A difficult golf course in difficult playing conditions is certainly Davies’ cup of tea. She has a one-stroke lead that could have been three or more – 18 is a birdie hole for long hitters like her – and there is no reason to think she’ll take her foot off the accelerator. But she’s being chased by a slew of the best players in women’s golf 45 and older.
The weather may have been a tad more demanding that the organizers wanted and certainly was more brutal than the players wanted. But after one round of this three-round event, pretty much everyone got the leaderboard they wanted. Let’s see what Day 2 brings.