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For Some, the Championship Journey is the Trip of a Lifetime

By Ron Sirak

| Aug 23, 2022 | Kettering, Ohio

After earning an exemption with a top-10 finish last year, Dana Ebster is back and hoping to make another run. (Jeff Haynes/USGA)

U.S. Senior Women's Open Home

The U.S. Senior Women’s Open field is headlined by legends: Winners of the U.S. Women’s Open, the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Curtis Cup Team members and inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame. But this championship is also the story of the grassroots of the game, the 72 women among the 377 who entered qualifiers at 16 sites and worked their way to this week’s championship at NCR Country Club.

Of the 120 players who will tee it up on the NCR South Course in Kettering, Ohio, on Thursday, 48 earned exemptions. But the door to potential glory swings open to any woman, professional or amateur, who is 50 years old by Aug. 25 and has a Handicap Index of 7.4 or lower. This championship is a gateway to great performances from unexpected places. Last year at Brooklawn Country Club, Dana Ebster, who runs the junior academy and is a shop assistant at Turlock Golf and Country Club in Turlock, Calif., survived qualifying, got into the field as an alternate and took full advantage of the opportunity by tying for 10th place.

Ebster’s top-10 not only earned her an exemption into this year’s field, she also captured hearts of the fans with her unbridled enthusiasm and, with her solid play, inspired the imaginations of others who dream of playing their way into the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

“Oh, my gosh, it was amazing,” Ebster gushed at Brooklawn. “I loved it. So much fun. I got to see a lot of old friends. Some of them that didn't remember me and then they said, oh, because I have a new last name. Walking down that last hole and my marker turned to me and said, ‘Are you enjoying this?’ And I go, Yes, I'm so bummed that it's going to end.”


A bout with Stage 4 cancer gave Laura Carson new perspective as she qualified for her second career USSWO. (Jeff Haynes/USGA)

A dream realized doesn’t have to end, however. Or at least it can be added to, as is the case with Ebster. For others who are playing in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open for the first time this week, the dream is just beginning. For Laura Carson, it is a dream renewed.

Carson, a 66-year-old amateur from Vero Beach, Fla., qualified for the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in 2018. But less than a year later, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and had a tumor removed from her spine.

“They didn’t think I would walk again, so I’m way ahead,” she said Tuesday at NCR Country Club. “I was totally away from golf for eight months but tried the Florida Mid-Am in 2020, and that didn’t go well. Then Covid hit and that was like a lost year.”

Carson’s battle with cancer came after a strong year on the golf course. In 2018, she won the Women’s Eastern Senior Amateur, the same year she qualified for the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. Before that, Carson made it to match play in the U.S. Women’s Mid Amateur three times.

“I take my meds, I work out with a trainer three times a week and I’m still not only playing, I’m competing,” Carson, who qualified for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Bradenton Country Club, said at NCR. “Wouldn’t it be great if I could make the cut here?”

Truly, the stories of the qualifiers of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open are the stories of perseverance. These women have traveled a long and sometimes difficult road.

Avis Brown-Riley, 58, of North Las Vegas, Nev., is a LPGA Professional Class A member and a breast cancer survivor. Believed to be the first Black woman to qualify for this championship, she wrote the book, “Building of a Champion: How I became a champion in life: The Avis Brown-Riley Story.” Brown-Riley uses her personal struggle to help grow the game of golf. Her family runs the San Diego Inner City Junior Golf Foundation, which introduces kids to golf.

Adele Snyder, 52, of Lebanon, Ohio, was the No. 1-ranked girls golfer in the United States as a 17-year-old in 1986. She went on to become a three-time All-America golfer at Stanford University. In 1996, she won the Northeast Championship while eight months pregnant. She is currently a director of sales at a major national grocery store and earned her way to NCR through a qualifier.

Another qualifier is Suzi Spotleson, 55, a banking compliance leader at a major financial company. A resident of Canton, she won the Ohio State Women’s Mid-Amateur and Senior Amateur titles in 2017, 2018 and 2021. She began playing golf after graduating from Northwestern University, where she was a four-year letter winner in softball and played in the College World Series. She made it to the Round of 16 in this year’s U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur in Alaska.

Not everyone at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open has the résumé of the 10 champions of the U.S. Women’s Open in this year’s field, but all have a compelling story that makes them a champion in other ways. Any one of those 72 who earned a ticket to NCR at a local qualifier could become this year’s Dana Ebster. All of them will leave here with a week to remember.

Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites and publications.