Journalists aren’t supposed to insert themselves into the story, but sometimes that’s the only way to get the message across. For me, the LPGA marketing slogan, “See Why It’s Different Out Here,” never felt more real than it did during the week of the Senior LPGA Championship presented by Old National Bank. I was constantly reminded why, in my 48 years as a journalist, covering women’s golf is easily my favorite assignment.
As happened in July at the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open, player after player came up to me and thanked me not only for being there this particular week but for being there the last 30 years, writing about the LPGA and telling the story of women’s golf. Truly, it is I that should be offering thanks.
I’ve covered championships in baseball, football, basketball, the Olympics and more than 160 majors in golf, men and women combined, and the access and openness of LPGA players is unmatched among athletes. Quite simply, the better you know someone the better – and fairer – you can write about him or her. Women professional golfers allow you that luxury.
Commissioner Mike Whan likes to tell his players to, “Act like a Founder.” What he means is the 13 women who founded the LPGA in 1950 did it all. They not only played the game and ran the tournaments but they also constantly promoted the LPGA, going anywhere crowds gathered to sell the fledgling women’s circuit. Virtually without exception, today’s players have bought into Whan’s message.
Many of the players who were at Chicago Golf Club in July for the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open or at The Pete Dye Course at French Lick for the second installment of the Senior LPGA Championship were among that class of third-wave players who took the tour to another level. They never lost that pioneering spirit of the Founders.
Think of it this way: There were the Founders and then there were those who built on the Founders, players like Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth and Carol Mann. Then came the Nancy Lopez generation that bridged the tour to today, players like Hollis Stacy, Betsy King and Juli Inkster, joined by the first international wave like Jan Stephenson, Laura Davies, Liselotte Neumann and Helen Alfredsson, all of whom competed in the Senior LPGA.
There was an old-timey feel to the Senior LPGA that was right in every way. The French Lick Resort traces its history back to the middle of the 1800s. And the mansion high on a hill at The Pete Dye Course at French Lick is where in 1931 Franklin D. Roosevelt announced he was running for President of the United States. There is history everywhere you look here.
Similarly, Chicago Golf Club was in 1894 one of the five founding members of the U.S. Golf Association. The atmosphere at both the Senior LPGA and at the Senior Women’s Open was a throwback to a simpler time for the fans. It reminded all that, while intensely competitive, golf is a game played in beautiful surroundings.
At both of the senior majors there were no gallery ropes and the legends of the game moved easily among the adoring public. It made the spectators better able to appreciate the difficulty of the shot – they could see what faced the player as they stood right behind the ball – and it made them better able to embrace the humanity of their heroes.
History will remember the 2017 Senior LPGA Championship as the first major for senior women and I will remember the 2018 Senior LPGA and U.S. Senior Women’s Open as special weeks in which I revisited my history in the game. These are the players I started out covering 30 years ago. Happily, they are as special now as they were then.
The French Lick Resort and the LPGA struck gold when they created this tournament, building on a foundation laid by the Legends Tour. For the players, it is an opportunity to compete. For the fans, it is a celebration of the history of the game. For me, it was reminder of how fortunate I’ve been to be around these incredibly talented athletes who are also extremely generous with their time. For me, it is a major memory.