The U.S. Senior Women’s Open was a long timing coming – 38 years after the men had the U.S. Senior Open – but it was well worth the wait. The week at historic Chicago Golf Club was a celebration of the pioneers who grew the LPGA and the inaugural event was won in a demonstrative manner by Dame Laura Davies, the Englishwoman who helped launch the globalization of the women’s game when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1987.
The women who helped build a league of their own now have a U.S. national championship of their own. And the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, which has a minimum age of 50, joins the Senior LPGA Championship, whose age limit is 45, as the only majors for senior women. Trish Johnson, who was third at Chicago Golf Club, one of the five founding members of the USGA in 1894, won the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship last year at The Pete Dye Course at French Lick.
Everywhere you looked at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open you saw legends. There was Sandra Palmer, Hollis Stacy, Amy Alcott, Betsy King, Pat Bradley and, most inspiringly, JoAnne Carner. Big Mamma, who won 43 LPGA tournaments, was given the honor of hitting the first tee shot Thursday morning and all she did was go out and shoot her age – 79. And she did it by playing the last five holes one under par.
Even the starter who called Carner to the first tee – reading off an impressive list of eight USGA championships she had won – was a legend. Nancy Lopez, unable to play because of a bad knee, worked double duty, serving as first tee starter all four days and on Saturday also running a junior clinic. Actually, Nancy, as always, went beyond the call of duty, also doing her fair share of media work to publicize the tournament.
Of the 161 major championships I have covered since 1988, this was one of the most inspiring. Players I know from their LPGA days came up to me and thanked me for being in Chicago and for covering the tour when they played. The way they treated me reminded me that it truly is different out there.
Part of the magic of the week was that the LPGA players, who have always engaged with the fans, told the USGA they wanted an intimate atmosphere. So, the thousands who walked the course – about twice as many as organizers expected -- were able to file in behind the legends they adore and wander the fairways without gallery ropes. This allowed them to better appreciate the shots the players had to hit and, at times, even gave them the thrill of having a player chat with them.
In the end, the three players in the field of 120 who are playing a relative full-time competitive schedule prevailed. The 54-year-old Davies, who was T-2 to Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park in March at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup after a sizzling 63 on Saturday, finished at 16-under-par 276 on an extremely challenging venue with Juli Inkster, who’s played nine LPGA events this year, at 286 and Johnson, who pops up on the Ladies European Tour, at 288.
There are two interesting side effects that could come out of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open. One is that it could be a boost to the Legends Tour. When the U.S. Senior Open was created in 1980, it gave birth to the Senior Tour, which is now the PGA Tour Champions. To have a stable, expanded tour for senior women would be a great addition to the golf schedule for all fans.
And then there is what this could mean for Dame Laura. She last won on the LET in 2010 and on the LPGA – where she has 20 titles – in 2001. Davies still has considerable game, as she proved at both the Founders Cup and the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. She says the shots are still there and she just needs the confidence to make them happen under tournament pressure.
If she wins again, she would shatter the record for the oldest LPGA winner, which is 46 by Beth Daniel. And if that win should happen to come at the Ricoh Women’s British Open in two weeks, it would give her the two points she needs to gain entry in to the LPGA Hall of Fame. And that would make the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open an even bigger historic event.