Dame Laura Davies delivered a peerless Royal Command Performance to give the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open a runaway first champion as she crushed the field by 10 strokes at Chicago Golf Club on Sunday.
Five shots clear of her closest challenger Juli Inkster overnight, Davies had said that the tournament was hers to win or lose but she made sure there would be no last-day stumble with two birdies in her first four holes before closing with a bogey-free, five-under 68.
On a sun-splashed day in Illinois, Davies overpowered the par-five holes with birdies on all five of them and capitalized on her exquisite iron game while making key putts whenever she needed to as she posted a 16-under total of 276.
Five strokes behind overnight and eight adrift after just four holes on Sunday, Inkster trimmed Davies' lead to six shots with a near tap-in for birdie at the par-four ninth, but she was repeatedly betrayed by her putter after the turn and had to settle for second place at six-under after returning a level-par 73.
Trish Johnson, the third member of the final grouping on Sunday who won last year's inaugural Senior LPGA Championship, finished a further two strokes back after a matching 73.
"It's great, seeing this trophy paraded down for the very first time, and I get my name on it first," a beaming Davies said during her winner's press conference with the gleaming U.S. Senior Women's Open trophy close by to her right. "You know, this championship will be played for many years, and there will only be one first winner. Obviously quite a proud moment for me to win that."
FIRST WIN IN EIGHT YEARS
It was the 85th professional victory worldwide for the World Golf Hall of Fame member, and one that she will certainly treasure because of her dominance after starting the week as a pre-tournament favorite alongside Inkster. However, it was also her first win anywhere since the 2010 Hero Honda Women's Indian Open on the Ladies European Tour.
"I hadn't won for eight years, so the pressure you're playing under when you're trying to just do something for yourself, prove to yourself you can still win, makes this win rank highly up there," said Davies, the 1987 U.S. Women's Open champion. "And obviously because it's a USGA (United States Golf Association) event, it's hard to compare tournaments, but this is very high on my list of achievements, I can assure you."
After shooting a best-of-the-week 66 on Saturday, Davies had said she would struggle to sleep well on the five-stroke lead she had established, and that prediction proved to be accurate.
"I woke up at about 3:30 and couldn't get back to sleep until about a quarter to 5:00, and then my alarm went off at 6:30, so it was a bit of a traumatic night," she said. "But that's what great championship golf is all about. It tests everything. You're playing in the heat, trying to sleep properly. Everything gets tested in these championships. That's another good reason when you come out on top, you feel pretty pleased with yourself."
Perhaps the biggest turning point in the final round came at the par-three 10th where Davies, though six strokes ahead of Inkster at the time, could well have succumbed to a two-shot swing, or even worse.
Inkster hit a superb tee shot there to 15 feet while Davies blocked hers well right, her ball ending up a good 70 feet from the flagstick for a very difficult two-putt. Inkster narrowly missed her birdie attempt and Davies somehow salvaged par.
"That was my first really rank bad shot of the week, and it left a ridiculous putt," said Davies. "I managed to two-putt it, but for a second I thought I was putting it in the bunker (with her first putt). So that was massive, I'll be honest about that. It wasn't the greatest hole I've ever played, but I think that to me was when I really started to think I might have one hand on the trophy and just had to get the other one in there."
INAUGURAL U.S. SENIOR WOMEN'S OPEN A HOME RUN RIGHT ACROSS THE BOARD
For a first-time event, the 2018 U.S. Senior Women's Open could not have been better scripted and it unfolded superbly in literally every respect.
The storied Chicago Golf Club layout, a links-style masterpiece with massive, square-shaped greens, was a magnificent venue where both long and short-hitters could thrive. The United States Golf Association did a fantastic job in setting up the course in a fair but testing manner, no easy task given that the field ranged from a couple of fifty-somethings (Davies and Inkster) 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.
LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame member Nancy Lopez, unable to participate this week after having knee-replacement surgery in November, was a perfect choice as honorary starter and she announced the names of every player for all four rounds as they prepared to tee off on the par-four opening hole.
Fans were given the rare luxury of being able to walk the fairways with the players, creating an intimate, almost throwback, atmosphere that was widely embraced by the competitors in a starting field of 120.
Even Mother Nature did her best to cooperate. An unpromising forecast for Sunday, which led to tee times being brought forward for a second day in a row, did not pan out and the final round unfolded under blue skies in blazing sunshine.
Then there was the championship itself which began on Thursday with Hall of Famers Davies and Inkster, plus Legends Tour player Trish Johnson, billed as the three pre-tournament favorites. By the time Sunday's final round rolled around, that trio unsurprisingly occupied the three spots in the final grouping - following the advance script to perfection!
As if that wasn't enough, JoAnne Carner delivered the 'feel-good' story of the entire week when she shot her age in the opening round with a 79 after covering the back nine in a highly respectable one-under 36.
"It's been quite a storybook this week, hasn't it?" Amy Alcott, whose five major championship wins include the 1980 U.S. Women's Open, told LPGA.com after finishing in a tie for 42nd. "I must say there has been a lot of emotion this week and just to come back and be competitive again, see the USGA sign up there. I saw that sign so many times as a kid, as an amateur, and I played in so many Opens, but to come back and play here in this event, I thought the week just came off beautifully and the USGA did a great job. It was just so classy how everything was done, this inaugural event and how was it presented."
Alcott, one of eight former U.S. Women's Open champions who made the cut at Chicago Golf Club, was thrilled to be back in competition and to have played all four days.
"I'm glad I finished," she laughed. "I don't play a whole lot but I still love the game and go out socially and play, and do corporate outings and stuff. This was great to get the competitive juices going again and I loved hitting a par-five in two, here at 18. I did that three days in a row. That's probably my greatest memory of the week."