U.S. SENIOR WOMEN'S OPEN
Players Celebrate a Dream Realized July 11, 2018 | WHEATON, ILL. By Ron Sirak

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More than a few tears have already been shed at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, and it’s still early in the week. From big things, like the quality of the golf course, to tiny touches, like a greeting desk at the airport, courtesy cars for competitors, engraved nameplates on lockers and a commemorative Tiffany plate for each player, this inaugural competition at Chicago Golf Club feels like a major championship. Not only have the players noticed, they’ve already embedded the event deep in their hearts.

Many of those in the field of 120, players like JoAnne Carner, Pat Bradley, Betsy King and Juli Inkster – all USGA champions – have long lobbied for a national championship for female professional golfers over the age of 50. More than one has said that the fact it now exists feels like a dream come true. On Tuesday night, at a gala dinner for the players, a dream no longer deferred was celebrated.

“This is a who’s who field of women’s golf,” said Mike Davis, CEO of the USGA. “Instead of calling it the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, let’s call it ‘The About Time Senior Women’s Open.’”

Before reading off a roll call of USGA champions in attendance that was longer than the field list of most championships, USGA president Mark Newell said: “On behalf of the USGA, it is my deep, deep privilege to welcome you to Chicago Golf Club. Have you ever seen such an amazing collection of champions in one place at one time?”

Truly, the feeling on the club lawn was one of intense anticipation, but it was also one of overwhelming respect for the players and administrators who have gotten the women’s game to this place in history.

“The anticipation for this event is palpable,” said former Golf Channel personality Kelly Tilghman, who was host for the evening. “Can you feel the energy? Everywhere you turn you see legends. This is a true collection of pioneers who led in so many different ways.”

Among those on hand but not able to play because of knee surgery was Nancy Lopez, who for more than two decades was the face of women’s golf. She will serve as the honorary starter on Thursday.

“I’m already crying,” said Lopez. “I’m so excited for the players. I’m so sorry I’m not healthy but I hope I’ll be able to play next year.” One who will tee it up Thursday, Maggie Will, sang a song hummed by many in the field. “I cried when they gave me my player pin,” she said.

Among those welcoming the new championship were former LPGA commissioners Charlie Mechem and Ty Votaw, both of whom see the U.S. Senior Women’s Open as a major boost to women’s golf and both of whom provided historical perspective to the event.

“We didn’t have a cadre of senior players when I was commissioner to field a tournament,” said Mechem, who was LPGA commissioner from 1990-95. “But I’m sure glad this is happening now.”

Votaw, who ran the tour from 1999 to 2005, added: “You are my heroes for your commitment to the intrinsic values of the sport, your dedication to the game and your patience for this event.”

The age of the players in this inaugural championship ranges from 50 to 79 and, fittingly, Carner, one of only five players to have won three different USGA individual championships, capped off the evening.

“I’m the oldest here and you all sure look young to me,” she said. “I waited 20 years for this, but the USGA sure did it right. I’ll tell you one thing, DNF (did not finish) will not be on my scorecard.”

This week, the trophy for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open joins those of the Women’s Open, Women’s Amateur, Women’s Mid-Amateur, Senior Women’s Amateur, Women’s Four-Ball and Girls’ Junior as USGA national titles available to women. On Thursday, the chase for that prize begins. 

“You are on the verge of history,” Tilghman said. “Go get it.”

Chicago Golf Club, one of the five founding members of the USGA in 1894, has already gotten rave reviews from the players. The USGA has similarly received high marks. Now, it’s all about the golf. And the way the week has gone, the suspicion looms that something special is waiting for us on Sunday, when for someone a dream really comes true as she holds the U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship Trophy.

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