Expectation Turns to Competition for Game's Greats July 12, 2018 | WHEATON, ILL. By Ron Sirak

The atmosphere at the first tee was electric as six-time USGA champion Hollis Stacy began play in the championship. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Anticipation is one of the strongest of human emotions, that passage of time while waiting for something to happen. Each minute ticked off the clock, each page ripped off the calendar adds seasoning to the stew of desire. On Thursday at Chicago Golf Club, one of golf’s longest waits ended. And when the first ball was struck at the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open, those pioneers who helped build a league of their own finally had a national championship of their own.

Some things are just worth waiting for. Chicago Golf Club has proven to be a fitting place for a dream to come true, a brilliant design that carved its place in the history of the game as one of the five founding clubs of the USGA. And the Chicago area is fitting as well, since it was the owner of the Cubs who started the women’s professional baseball league during World War II that became the setting for the 1992 movie, “A League of Their Own.”

That league began in 1943 and lasted until 1954. But the golf league 13 women started in 1950 – the LPGA – still exists as the oldest and most successful women’s professional sports organization in the world. And now those professionals 50 years and older have a national championship to pursue – 38 years after the U.S. Senior Open became a men’s senior major.

“It is truly special to be able to contest this championship at Chicago Golf Club,” USGA president Mark Newell said in the opening ceremony. “We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else for this historic event.”

And then he tapped into the real emotion of the week, those players who have pursued this dream – fought for it, really – and since the creation of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open was announced in February 2015 have harbored that intense emotion of anticipation. This was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

“I want to congratulate and thank all of our competitors,” Newell said. “This week is for you. This championship exists because of you. You built the women’s game of golf and have inspired so many of us with your phenomenal talent and wonderful sportsmanship. We are thrilled and honored to provide you with this new opportunity to play in golf’s ultimate test – a U.S. Open championship.”

This has been a special week of hugs, reunions, a few tears and good-natured ribbing. But on Thursday morning when the announcement came to, “Play away, please,” the giggles turned to gazes as the championship became what these 120 players have lived for most of their lives – a competition to see who’s the best. When the chase for the trophy began, all those competitive passions kicked in.

“It’s a little early,” Sandra Palmer joked shortly before her 7 a.m. tee time, and then she pointed out to one of her playing partners, Hollis Stacy, that she still had the price tag taped to the hosel of her driver. “It gives it perfect balance,” Stacy replied.

Jo Anne Carner, 79, had the honor of hitting the first shot of the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open. She faked a nervous knee wobble and when honorary starter Nancy Lopez, sidelined after knee surgery, read off Carner’s eight USGA championships and four Curtis Cup Team berths, Carner cupped her hand to her ear, appreciating her own accomplishments. Then she laced her drive down the right-center of the fairway, outdriving her two younger playing partners.

“What a special day,” USGA CEO Mike Davis said as he walked the first fairway with Newell behind the opening threesome of Carner, Palmer and Stacy. “The look and the feel is stunning. To see spectators walking the fairways with the players they’ve idolized all these years is truly special,” he said, referring to the fact that galleries are encouraged to walk behind the players, with only the tees and greens cordoned off.

Finally, the event the best senior players in women’s golf had fought for had arrived. And when the dream became a reality, they found that the anticipation was not a misplaced emotion. This was worth waiting for.

Those players who helped make women’s golf what it is today were rewarded this week with a national championship that feels every bit like a major event. A new page in the history of golf is being written this week at Chicago Golf Club, and on Sunday one player will have the honor of her name as the first engraved on the trophy for the U.S. Senior Women's Open. That will truly be worth waiting for.

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

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