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Anticipation Building for Inaugural Championship

By Ron Sirak

| Apr 1, 2017

Two-time U.S. Women's Open champion Meg Mallon has already turned her attention to next year's U.S. Senior Women's Open. (USGA/John Mummert)

A few years ago, I was playing in a Legends Tour pro-am with the great JoAnne Carner. She was 74 years old at the time and made two eagles, chipping in on a par 5 and holing out from 117 yards on a par 4. As always, she was funny and charming, and the competitive fire still raged within her, in that special way it does with champions.

At one point, I said to her: “Big Momma, do you know that you are one of only five people who have won three different USGA events?” Matter of factly, almost as if it were part of her pre-shot routine, she replied: “Yeah, and if there were a Senior [Women’s] Open I’d have four.” Then she striped a drive that perfectly fit the dogleg left we were playing.

That window has closed for Carner, who won the U.S. Girls’ Junior, the U.S. Women’s Amateur five times and the U.S. Women’s Open twice, but turns 78 on April 4 and is in need of knee replacements. But a new challenge has opened for a host of other legends of the game. Next July 12-15, the U.S. Senior Women’s Open will debut at Chicago Golf Club, the oldest course in America on its original property and one of the founding clubs of the USGA.

The sense of excitement around this new event is building in a special way, rekindling the desire that always smolders in great players. Last fall, I was playing the Hyannisport Club on Cape Cod with Pat Bradley, winner of the 1981 U.S. Women’s Open and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. She was on her game that day on the windswept seaside links.

“Pro,” I said. “You’re killing it today.”

Without hesitation Bradley, who is now 66, replied: “I just want to be a factor in the first Senior Women’s Open. I want to play well there. It’s history. We’ve waited a long time for this.”

And Bradley plans to be there, having qualified in one of the exempt categories announced in March for the debut of the U.S. Senior Women's Open.

U.S. Senior Women's Open: Exempt Players

Betsy King, winner of the Women’s Open in 1989 and 1990, is also getting her game ready. Now 61, she competes in a few Legends Tour events a year and plays a lot of corporate golf to raise money for Golf Fore Africa, her charitable organization that is focused on bringing clean drinking water to parts of Africa.

“I’m excited,” said King, who attends many LPGA Tour events to recruit players to become involved in her charity. “This is a huge step for women’s golf and I’m so happy the USGA has done it.

“I’ve heard great things about Chicago Golf Club and I’m going to try to play it when I am in town for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. I’ll try to play the Senior Open,” said King in her understated way, which means she’s already practicing hard.

Dottie Pepper, who finished third in the Women’s Open three times, was driven from the competitive game by injuries and is now a TV commentator for CBS and ESPN. “I will not be playing,” she said. “I’m plenty busy with two jobs and will be maintaining my focus on them. I'm happy the senior women will have a championship, but I have not hit a competitive golf shot in nearly 13 years.”

Walking outside the ropes at this year’s ANA Inspiration, the first LPGA major of the year, was Caryn Wilson who, along with Althea Gibson, played in the U.S. Women’s Open in golf, as well as the US Open in tennis. Wilson, of Rancho Mirage, Calif., was following the twosome of Michelle Wie and 14-year-old Lucy Li.

“I’m so excited that they are having a Senior Women’s Open,” said Wilson, a semifinalist in the 2013 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. “I have to figure out a way to qualify. Maybe I’ll just win the Senior Amateur this year.”

Qualifying is not a concern for Meg Mallon, who won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1991 and again in 2004 – a remarkable 13 years later, and is therefore exempt into the Senior Women’s Open.

"When I first heard that they were going to have a Senior Open, I said, ‘I’m not going to play. I’ve been away too long,’” said Mallon, who is 53 and won her last LPGA event 13 years ago. “Then I heard it was going to be at Chicago Golf Club and I said, ‘Wow!’”

Mallon, who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in September, is ready to dedicate herself to the work required.

“I’m going to have to work hard for six months to get ready,” Mallon said. “I’m not sure my body will hold up, but I really want to be there.”

And that’s pretty much the consensus: An exciting new opportunity on a venue that has hosted 11 USGA championships, including three U.S. Opens. For everyone I talked to, the longest wait for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open is the one they are experiencing now – waiting for next year and the debut of the newest USGA championship.

Longtime golf writer Ron Sirak also appears regularly on Golf Channel.

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