Players, Chicago Golf Club Ready to Make History Again July 9, 2018 | WHEATON, ILL. By Ron Sirak

Yuko Saito prepares for the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open at Chicago Golf Club on the first official day of practice rounds. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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History is almost audible as you walk the fairways of Chicago Golf Club, voices from the earliest days of golf in America echoing through the trees. As one of the five founding member clubs of the USGA in 1894, the club was there when the game first planted its roots in this country and this week it bookends its legacy as the venue of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open, the 12th USGA championship contested there.

The newest USGA championship is both a celebration of where the game has been and a vision of where it is going, joining the elite list of championships conducted by the game’s governing body. The first U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship was played in 1895 and in 1903, Bessie Anthony defeated J. Anna Carpenter, 7 and 6, at Chicago Golf Club for the title. The first U.S. Women’s Open was won by Patty Berg at Spokane Country Club in 1946.

And for the inaugural U. S. Senior Women’s Open to be conducted at Chicago Golf Club gives the championship immediate entry into the pages of golf’s history. In 1894, Chicago Golf Club joined with Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island, Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island, The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., and St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, N.Y., in forming a body that would govern the game in the United States and conduct national championships.

The history of the club alone gives the event instant credibility. The U. S. Open was played there in 1897, 1900 and 1911. In 1900, the winner was Harry Vardon, a six-time winner of The Open Championship, conducted by The R&A. And in 1911, John J. McDermott became the first man born in the United States to win the title.

This event literally sags under the weight of history. Only five players have won three different USGA championships – Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, Carol Semple Thompson and JoAnne Carner. And this week Carner (one U.S. Girls’ Junior, five U.S. Women’s Amateurs to go with her two U.S. Women’s Opens victories) will be trying to become the only player with four different USGA titles. And trying to join the list with three are Juli Inkster, Hollis Stacy, Amy Alcott and Ellen Port.

“I still love playing,” says Carner, who is 79 years old and says she can easily shoot her age. “I’ve lost some length off the tee, which is aggravating, but it’s still fun to compete and I can still knock in a 4-footer for a little money.”

Told at a Legends Tour event before the U.S. Senior Women’s Open was announced that she is one of only five players with three different USGA titles, Big Mamma said with no hint of a smile: “And if there was a Senior Women’s Open, I’d have four.”

Well, now there is, and at 7 a.m. CDT on Thursday, Carner will tee off with Stacy, a three-time winner of the U.S. Women’s Open and six-time USGA champion, and Sandra Palmer, the 1975 U.S. Women’s Open champion, fittingly in the first group off No. 1.

The creation of this championship has long been a dream of top LPGA and international professionals. Told during a round last fall at Hyannisport Club in Massachusetts that she was hitting the ball well, Pat Bradley, winner of the 1981 U.S. Women’s Open at La Grange Country Club, about 20 miles from Chicago G.C., said: “I just want to be a factor in the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open.”

The 67-year-old Bradley said: “I’ve had the Senior Women’s Open on my calendar for 17 years, so to say I was excited to apply to play in this championship is an understatement. It’ll bring back some great memories to go back to the Chicago area and compete for an Open title.”

Bradley will tee off on No. 10 at 7:44 a.m. with Alcott, the 1980 winner of the U.S. Women’s Open, and Betsy King, a two-time Women’s Open champion.

Inkster, who won three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships as well as the U.S. Women’s Open twice, is 58 and has kept her game sharp by playing in nine LPGA tournaments this year with a low round of 67.

“I’m fortunate that I can still play some LPGA tournaments and use that to get ready,” said Inkster, who, along with 54-year-old Laura Davies, the 1987 U.S. Women’s Open champion, have to be considered among the favorites because they are still so active on the pro tours.

“I think it’s a long time coming and I can’t wait to be there,” says Inkster. “Chicago Golf Club is an old-school course and it’s going to be a great host for the inaugural event.” Inkster is off No. 1 at 7:55 a.m. on Thursday with Davies and Liselotte Neumann, who won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1988.

The 120 players will take on a Chicago Golf Club set up at 6,088 yards and the field will be cut to the low 50 and ties after 36 holes. The final two rounds will be on FS1 from 4-6 p.m. EDT. If there is a tie after 72 holes, there will be a two-hole aggregate playoff, followed by sudden death if the players remain tied.

Something only happens for the first time once, and those fortunate enough to be in the field for the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open will always be able to say they were a part of history. And they will be able to say they played it at Chicago Golf Club, a place that has been a part of history before and is ready to do it again.

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

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