FAIRFIELD, Conn. | It was hard to find an unoccupied spot on the range Wednesday afternoon at Brooklawn Country Club, site of this week’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open. It wasn’t just because the range is on the smaller side - typical of older golf clubs, of which the current iteration of Brooklawn, built in 1930, certainly qualifies - but rather because it was full of players grinding hard ahead of the tournament’s start.
“Grind” seems like a word that should swiftly exit stage left once any athlete turns 50. But for the women playing in the third edition of this senior major championship, nothing is further from the truth.
Shots were videoed and drills were done all with the competitive juice that many of these women showed 20 and 30 years ago. They still possess it today, even if full-time professional golf is now squarely in the rearview mirror. Life moves quickly, especially for professional athletes. But you couldn’t tell it by looking at the swings, some of which only appear different because of the age of the person making them. Skin may wrinkle and joints may ache, but the distinct waggle of a club or adjustment of grip never goes away no matter how many years have passed.
What is different though is the atmosphere. Of course, everyone teeing it up in this championship is looking to be competitive, with even the event’s oldest participant, JoAnne Carner, saying her goal at 82 years old is to make the cut. But the air of seriousness that may have been present fifteen or twenty years ago when most of these players were in their primes has been replaced with the desire to enjoy the moment, just have fun, and, most importantly, catch up with old friends.
If you didn’t know better, you’d think that Brooklawn was playing host to a reunion of sorority sisters rather than a major golf championship. Players are constantly stopping to chat about everything from what their kids are doing to where they’ve traveled recently to what they did during the pandemic. The need to compete is most definitely still present, but now it’s tinged with the perspective that comes with age and gratitude for the ability to have an opportunity to play again with lifelong friends.
“You realize how blessed you were for all those years that we had together,” said defending champion, Helen Alfredsson. “You knew you were going head-to-head with your friends and you knew they were going to want to beat you more than anything.
But off the golf course now we really do cherish all those years because I think there is mutual respect. You know you work hard, and you go through emotions, you go through stress, you go through ups and downs, and then you also share the good moments with a bunch of them. I've always said that it's really an amazing, awesome group of women that accomplished a lot together.”
After a challenging year with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing time away from both the game and friends, the field is just happy to be back together this week, reminding each other of days gone by and reminiscing on shared memories. For some, it doesn’t even feel like much time has passed at all.
“It's nice to come back and see the women playing because it's the same swings, same personalities, same everything,” said Pat Hurst, the U.S. Solheim Cup captain. “We're all pretty tight and it's a lot of fun just to get caught up on what everybody is doing.”
For others, even missing your friends for just a little over a year feels like a lifetime, causing bouts of forgetfulness when it comes to who’s who.
“When you're away from it for 14 months and whatnot, you say, now who is that? I don't know,” quipped Carner.
It can even be odd to consider how much has changed over the course of a decade, how different a person’s life can be compared to where you last left off with them.
“Because I retired 13 years ago and some of these players retired even before that, it was just kind of strange to see them and think about what everybody has done, whether it's getting married, starting a family, or just doing other things,” said Annika Sorenstam, who’s making her U.S. Senior Women’s Open debut. “It’s just been nice to catch up with players I haven't seen— really, really nice.”
But overall, the shared sentiment is that it’s good to be back among old friends. And while things may be different in 2021, the bond between these women that was shared all those years ago hasn’t weakened in the slightest. If anything, the passage of time and forward movement of life makes this moment that much sweeter.