The best players in the women's game face an unusual - and daunting - challenge over the next two weeks with back-to-back major championships being staged on the LPGA Tour. First up in the spectacular surrounds of Evian-les-Bains in the foothills of the French Alps is The Evian Championship, which in 2013 became the LPGA's fifth major. That will then be followed from August 1-4 by the AIG Women's British Open at Woburn Golf Club, just outside Milton Keynes in England.
A fortnight of intense pressure as players vie for supremacy in two of golf's biggest events, the fourth and fifth major championships of the 2019 season. For Susie Maxwell Berning, an 11-time winner on the LPGA Tour whose career victory tally included four majors, the ability to pace oneself will be key to success in these back-to-back tournaments.
"You have to make sure that you get your rest, and don't celebrate too much if you win that first major and you are going into the Women's British the very next week!" Berning told LPGA.com. "You have to be very careful that you're not celebrating too much and that you aren't on a high too much, because then you've got to get yourself back down for that next major. Pacing yourself will be very important.
“Competing in back-to-back majors would be very tough but if you are in good physical shape and you're playing well, I think you would encourage back-to-back majors. I remember winning the Western Open in 1965, which was a major back then, and the very next week I missed the cut. I had celebrated too much!"
Berning played on the LPGA Tour from 1964 to 1996 and she always experienced a much greater level of pressure when she was competing for major titles.
"You're pretty tired after the week of a major because of the focus required," she said. "I found myself giving more attention and more focus to every shot during a major whereas later on in a regular Tour event, I would get up on the tee and think to myself, 'Oh well, it's just another tournament.' But when it came time for the majors, for some reason, I tried harder. I often asked myself, 'Why can't I try that hard in a regular tournament?' And I don't know the answer to that!"
Berning has personal knowledge of majors being held successively on the LPGA Tour. There have been 11 seasons when majors have been played consecutively on the LPGA Tour, most recently in 2011. Prior to that was 1972 (when Berning won the second of her three U.S. Women's Open crowns), 1960, 1959, 1958, 1957, 1956, 1955, 1954, 1953 and 1952. Of those 11 seasons, seven featured back-to-back majors. The remaining four - 2011, 1972, 1957 and 1954 - were instances when at least one off-week came in between the majors.
Berning triumphed by one shot in the 1972 U.S. Women's Open at Winged Foot, having tied for 10th just two weeks earlier on her previous Tour start - in the LPGA Championship at Pleasant Valley.
"In my mind, I probably went into that year's Open with some confidence because I'd finished pretty good in the LPGA Championship," Berning recalled of her one-stroke victory over Kathy Ahern, Pam Barnett, and Judy Rankin. "When you're playing good, you want to continue playing in tournaments and at that time I didn't play in every tournament because I was married and I was raising a family. I had a two-year-old daughter, so I played maybe just 10 or 11 tournaments that year."
A VERY DIFFERENT MATTER
In her earlier years on the LPGA Tour, it was a very different matter. Berning missed out on very few events.
"In my second year, I think I played every tournament," she smiled. "when I joined the Tour in 1964, we had to play every week so we were used to playing back-to-back tournaments and not taking the week off because the Tour needed us at the time, to keep the sponsors happy, etc. After I got married in 1968, when I won the Open at Moselem Springs Golf Club, I had played one tournament before that, at Pleasant Valley in Massachusetts. but I hadn't played in like four weeks before that because I was on my honeymoon!
"Playing back-to-back tournaments also depends on your conditioning. As a professional golfer, you're walking five miles a day five days a week, counting your practice rounds, and so we should be in pretty darn good shape physically. But mentally you do get tired, and we do put so much more emphasis on winning a major."
Berning, who was recognized during the LPGA's 50th anniversary in 2000 as one of the organization's top-50 players and teachers, has very fond memories of her victory at the 1972 U.S. Women's Open where she rebounded from an opening round of seven-over 79.
"To this day, that's still the highest opening round of any winner of the U.S. Women's Open," she laughed. "Winged Foot played extremely tough that week and there were some par-fours that I couldn't reach in regulation because a hurricane and heavy rains had come through the week before. I remember we had fairway woods plugging and were just barely getting out of their divot.
"I was very fortunate. We played the West Course and the 17th hole was a par three and we played it at a little over 200 yards and I remember the first three days I hit three-wood and I couldn't get to the green. But on the Sunday I had the confidence to hit a soft driver and I birdied the hole, and that's what helped me to win the Open that year. On the 18th tee, I felt the pressure for the first time that day and I know I skied my driver and I remember Jim Flick, who I was taking lessons from at the time, said, 'A skied driver means a good swing so don't worry about it.' I recall having to hit a five-wood into the green and in the days past it was like a five-iron. But I was a good fairway wood player at the time and was able to hit the five-wood on the green, so it was a blessing in disguise that I skied my driver! I had one of my favorite clubs into the green and two-putted. To this day, Judy Rankin, who is a good friend of mine, will say that I stole the Open from her! And I say to her that I apologize because Judy never won an Open!"