FRENCH LICK, Ind. – The Pete Dye Course at French Lick demands precision. Missed fairways lead to missed greens and the devious collection areas make par saves challenging. On Tuesday at the Senior LPGA Championship presented by Old National Bank, Juli Inkster had the right stuff to pass this stern test.
With a three-under-par 69, the seven-time LPGA major champion and LPGA Hall of Fame member completed 36 holes at three-under-par 141, two strokes ahead of Trish Johnson (who won here in 2017), Moira Dunn-Bohls and Jean Bartholomew.
Reigning U.S. Senior Women’s Open champion Helen Alfredsson is three strokes back at even-par along with 13-time LPGA winner Rosie Jones. First round leader Jill McGill stumbled with a 79 but is very much in the hunt at 145.
That’s a formidable group within striking distance going into Wednesday’s final round of this 54-hole event at the French Lick Resort. Adding to the challenge will be a plunging thermometer, which will make the Dye Course, hugging the second-highest point in Indiana, even more difficult.
After an opening 66, McGill went into the second round with a four-stroke lead over Jones and Dunn-Bohls. Inkster started the day six strokes back but quickly made her move with three birdies and a bogey in the first four holes on her way to a six-birdie, three-bogey day.
“I drove the ball really well and had a lot of wedges in but I struggled with my distance control and made some bogeys with wedge in my hand,” Inkster said. “I have to do a bit better with that tomorrow.”
For Inkster, who was T-12 in the Senior LPGA last year and has been second in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open each of the last two years, a win here would be a feather in an already cluttered cap. She’s won seven LPGA majors and three U.S. Women’s Amateur titles.
“There’s still a lot of golf to play,” she said when asked what a victory at the Senior LPGA would mean. “I just got to go out tomorrow and do the same thing. I was four over after nine holes yesterday so I’m proud of the way I came back.”
Also deserving of feeling a little pride is Bartholomew, who has spent more time of late giving lessons that she has competing.
“It was a grind, I’m exhausted,” she said after a two-under-par 70 left her at 143 thanks to a birdie on the final hole. “But it was a lot of fun. I’ve been busy teaching. I don’t play a lot and I don’t practice a lot.”
In addition to the pressure of being in contention in the final round of a major championship, Bartholomew will have to deal with the cold weather.
“Tomorrow is going to be tough,” she said. “But I’ll bundle up.”
Dunn-Bohls could have taken the lead alone with a birdie on the par-5 closing hole but instead made a double bogey and fell out of a tie with Inkster and into a tie with Bartholomew and Johnson for second.
“I knew it wasn’t going to get easier today,” Dunn-Bohls said about her 73 with four birdies, three bogeys and that double bogey. “The wind was blowing a lot more today than it was yesterday, so it was about hanging on. You know, you’re one swing away from disaster. I missed my mark by five yards [on No. 18] and made 7. It happens.”
Like most in the field, Dunn is impressed with the demands of the sprawling Pete Dye design which features humps and bumps, twists and turns and demanding green complexes.
“He had an extraordinary vision here,” Dunn-Bohls said. “To think about him seeing this and imagining this and building this and then coming out here and playing it – you have to do what the course wants you to do. You can’t really go after it very often.”
The characteristics of the golf course and the demands of the weather will make Wednesday’s final round everything a major championship should be – a test of wills.
What could say more about the special nature of the Senior LPGA Championship than to go into the final round with an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member leading, chased by an impressive group of challengers.
Certainly, when this event – which began as a stop on the Legends Tour before becoming a major – was conceived, this is exactly the kind of set up for the final day they imagined.
On Wednesday, legends will be on display at French Lick.