U.S. SENIOR WOMEN'S OPEN
Danielle Ammaccapane Sits 4th Despite Lack of Expectations July 14, 2018 | WHEATON, ILL. By Ron Sirak

The 1985 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links champion and seven-time LPGA winner is regaining her competitive feel. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Golf is a skill borrowed, not owned. Even the very best of players have to figure out who they are every time they tee it up. The same game doesn’t show up each time you play, and that’s especially true in competition.

Just take a look at the leader board after 54 holes of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. The top three – Laura Davies, Juli Inkster and Trish Johnson – still compete regularly, but their closest pursuer – Danielle Ammaccapane – is a woman without a tour.

Davies and Inkster remain familiar faces on the LPGA Tour and Johnson, who pops up occasionally on the Ladies European Tour, won the 2017 Senior LPGA Championship. They have stayed familiar with the feel of competition. But Ammaccapane, 52, has had to stay sharp by juggling family obligations and a scattered work life. She came to Chicago Golf Club with no idea what to expect.

“That’s a brilliant question,” she said when asked how she keeps her game sharp. “Lots of wine,” she said with a laugh, then added: “I played a few mini-tour events early in the year to get a feel for competition, but living in LA and having kids I don’t have a lot of time to play. I hit balls off a mat. I don’t have a tour to play in. It’s been tough. I just hit a lot of balls.”

But Ammaccapane does know how to win and like just about everyone in the field of 120 who teed off in this historic event on Thursday, when the bell sounded she came out swinging and with her game-face on. After opening with a 75, she shot 2-under-par 71 in each of the next two rounds to stand at 217, nine strokes behind Davies going into Sunday’s final round.

“I didn’t have a lot of expectations coming in here,” she says. “First I was thinking make the cut. Then when I made the cut I was thinking maybe top 15. So it’s surprising where I am standing right now. But it’s starting to come together. Who knows?"

Ammaccapane has experience getting the deal done. She won seven times on Tour and was the 1985 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion at the age of 19. She played on the 1986 Curtis Cup Team for the United States and won the NCAA individual championship in 1985 while playing for Arizona State, where she set a school record by winning 10 times.

But getting back into a comfort zone when it comes to competition is not an easy thing. Being nervous never goes away even for the most seasoned players; it’s just that when you play a lot you get used to what it feels like to be nervous.

Ammaccapane, whose career was cut short by a variety of injuries, hasn’t played the Tour in more than 10 years and over the last five years has only competed in 17 Legends Tour events. Her warmup events on the Cactus Tour earlier this year produced best results of fifth at Las Colinas Golf Club and T-4 at Apache Creek Golf Course in Arizona.

Ammaccapane, who married stockbroker Rod Kesling in 2000, has a daughter, Laura Ann Kesling, born in 2000 and a son, Denver Christian Kesling, born in 2004.  Laura was a child actor who appeared in the 2008 Adam Sandler movie “Bedtime Stories.”  Danielle also runs a short-game academy and conducts clinics at golf courses all over the country. Staying sharp, as she says, is a chore.

“She didn’t hit it so good early on, but she sort of figured it out mid-round,” said Dan Wilson, who was Ammaccapane’s caddie for 10 years and four of her victories, but has not looped for her since the Senior LPGA Championship last July, when she finished T-14. “She’s playing pretty good and she’s feeling pretty confident.”

Indeed, Ammaccapane seems to be improving with each round. After turning the front side in even-par 36, she played the back nine with seven pars and two birdies for a 35. It could be that all those familiar feelings are coming back and she’s getting used to the big stage she is on.

The truth of the matter might be that there is too much ground for Ammaccapane to make up on Sunday. Davies is nine ahead of her and playing great. But Inkster, in second, is a reachable four strokes away and Johnson, in third, is only two in front.

The skill is there. Ammaccapane has proven that many times in her professional and amateur career. She may not be able to own the day on Sunday, but she just might be able to rent enough of her own self to make a serious move at the leaders.

Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.

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