Soaring temperatures and a Chicago Golf Club layout becoming increasingly bouncy were major factors at the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open on Friday as the second round ended with just three players under par for the championship, and Englishwomen Trish Johnson and Laura Davies in a tie for the lead.
On a day when 'Big Mama' JoAnne Carner failed to make the cut after impressively shooting her age with a 79 in the opening round, Johnson and Davies both carded two-under 71s to finish level at four-under 142 after 36 holes.
Juli Inkster, helped by a sizzling run of three straight birdies to reach the turn, was alone in third at one-under after returning a 72 with Danielle Ammaccapane a further stroke back at level par, after a 71.
Johnson, winner of last year’s inaugural Senior LPGA Championship, briefly got to five under before running up a three-putt bogey on her final hole, the par-four ninth, but that was her only blemish after the turn in tricky scoring conditions.
"My back nine was very good," said Johnson, who has competed in only three other tournaments this year, two on the Ladies European Tour and one on the Legends Tour. "I hit some good shots, apart from the bogey at nine, but it was a long first putt there, probably the best part of 60 feet. It was the drive more than anything else that cost me. It was a poor drive. I hit a good second shot but just got a huge bounce."
The highlight of Johnson's round was an eagle at the par-five fourth where she struck a 5-wood from 190 yards to 10 feet and drained the putt.
"That was a good shot, probably the best shot of the day because that green is wicked," she smiled. "I hit it absolutely perfectly, just pitched into the bank and up to about 10 feet and I rolled it in, so that was a bonus. But it's still only two days, and there's a long way to go.
"Did I expect to be about 4-under? Yeah. Before it got this bouncy, I would have thought it would be more, but now that it's this bouncy, I'm quite happy with 4-under to be honest. Position-wise, I don't know. Of course everybody is trying to win. I'd rather be in first position than not, every day, because I'd rather end up in first position, so I'd rather start in first position. It's got to be easier."
Long-hitting Davies, the 1987 U.S. Women's Open champion, rebounded from a double-bogey on her second hole, the par-four 11th, and rattled up four birdies in her last 11 holes to join Johnson in a two-way tie at the top.
"I'm very pleased," said Davies. "I had a bit of a rude awakening on 11 ... hit it just through the back of the green and didn't hit a particularly poor chip and then three-putted for a double, so that was a nasty start. But I came back really well. I had one other bogey out there, but overall played really solid. Putted really well. Holed out really well today. It's so hard to get the putts dead to the hole here, and I made most of the ones coming back, which was nice."
The starting of field of 120 players was whittled down to the top 50 and ties and among the notables making the cut were former U.S. Women’s Open champions Amy Alcott (1980), Pat Bradley (1981), Jane Geddes (1986), Betsy King (1989, 1990) and Hollis Stacy (1977, 1978, 1984).
Bradley, at the age of 67, was thrilled to advance to the weekend.
"This week has been wonderful," said Bradley, a member of the LPGA and World Golf Halls of Fame. "But I've got to keep grinding. I'm not doing any ceremonial walk. I'm going to go out tomorrow and I'm going to work hard and try to stay as close to par as I can. The golf course is difficult. The greens are difficult. But I'm just going to go out and grind like I have for my whole career."
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL FOR THE FANS
Perhaps the most popular innovation for fans at Chicago Golf Club this week has been the decision by the United States Golf Association to allow spectators to walk down the middle of the fairways during the tournament, a move that has been widely embraced by the players. While the tees and greens have all been roped off as is customary, the fans are free to roam the fairways - as long as they keep a respectable distance from the players while they are preparing to hit their next shots.
"The whole concept has been really great," two-time U.S. Women's Amateur champion Kay Cockerill, who now spends most of her time working as an on-course analyst for Golf Channel, told LPGA.com. "Everyone has been very respectful. The fans got in but not too close, and it was nice to have people out there in a more casual manner.
"My family, they were following me up to a tee and there was a par-five going the opposite way and I had to yell to my brother and say, 'No, go that way!' They were just following us up to the tee thinking they would come up close to where were teeing off but we were actually going back in the opposite direction. So a few times you saw a few people meandering around, probably thinking, 'Where do I go next?' But no one got in our way.
"It sort of hearkened back to the way it was in the forties and fifties ... it's the right kind of atmosphere to have for this event here. It feels like throwback to me, and I like not having the grandstands and TV towers on site here. It's just a little bit more the way it used to be."
Juli Inkster agreed, saying: "I think it's a great idea. It's great for the fans to get an up-close and personal look. I apologize for all of the swearing by Laura (Davies) out there," she jested. "But no, the fans really like it and my husband has been out there, and he's heard a lot of positive comments like, 'If we could do this every week, I'd watch anybody play.' I think the fans are impressed with how we play and how we hit the ball. It's great for women's golf."
'BIG MAMA' CARNER BOWS OUT AFTER SHOOTING HER AGE IN OPENING ROUND
'Big Mama' JoAnne Carner did not want to admit it but she may well have run out of gas at a sweltering Chicago Golf Club as she missed the halfway cut, just 24 hours after delivering the 'feel-good' story of the opening round by shooting her age with a six-over 79.
As the mercury soared to 93 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoon on Friday and the course became firmer and faster, Carner struggled to an 83 that included two double-bogeys on her back nine.
"Right now I'm tired, very tired," she told LPGA.com after being warmly applauded as she ended her round on the ninth hole. "I just never really got into the rhythm of the swing today. I drove it not well today, and I've been driving it good. So you are starting on the wrong foot. I hit a couple of good irons but basically the whole swing was a little off."
Asked if she had perhaps run out of gas after playing 18 holes for five consecutive days (three of them in practice and two in competition), Carner replied with a mischievous grin: "I don't want to admit that, but I believe that's probably part of it, yeah. I got a little stiff. It just wasn't there today. Physically I wasn't sharp, you know."
Carner, who won 43 times on the LPGA Tour including the U.S. Women's Open in 1971 and 1976, had said at the start of the week that her goal was to make the cut and play the weekend. Having failed in her bid at the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open, she swiftly turned her sights to next year's edition which will be played at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in North Carolina.
"I'll certainly play next year," she said. "Pine Needles, ooh, that can play long, too. But I'll be ready."