5 Things You Need to Know for Round 1 July 11, 2018 | WHEATON, ILL. By Ron Sirak

It is only fitting that JoAnne Carner, an 8-time USGA champion, will strike the first ball of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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After years of waiting – decades for some of the players – the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open is finally here. It is a day many of the 120 players in the field never thought they would see. And if the pre-championship excitement is any indication, this is going to be a very special week at Chicago Golf Club, a fitting venue for this historic event since it was one of the five founding clubs of the USGA. Here are five things to look for on Thursday:

Big Mama Will Kick It Off: JoAnne Carner is one of only five players to have won three different USGA championships, joining Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and Carol Semple Thompson in that elite circle. At 7 a.m. CDT on Thursday, she will have the honor of striking the first ball off No. 1 and get the championship started. And it won’t be simply a ceremonial thing. The 79-year-old legend is not only in the field but has her eye on making the cut and playing the weekend.

“I didn’t know I was going to until I got here,” Carner said about the honor, which she admitted will make her a tad nervous. “I may have to tee it up way ahead of time because teeing up the ball when you’re nervous – right now I’m not nervous at all, but maybe when they announce me – you know, ‘On the tee, from Palm Beach, Florida, JoAnne Carner. Play away, please.’ And then you get nervous.”

Firm and Fast Conditions: Chicago Golf Club is a links-like masterpiece and it looks as if the fairways are going to be bouncy this week. The good news for the players is they may get 40 yards of roll on the tee ball and will be able to play the ball on the ground to get it on the greens. Not everyone in the field can hit it 200 yards in the air, but they can all hit it 200 yards on the ground. The bad news is that the greens are massive and the USGA says they will measure about 12 on the Stimpmeter. That means touch around the greens and solid lag putting will be a key to success.

“It reminds me a little bit of Sunningdale,” says Juli Inkster, comparing Chicago GC to the classic parkland course near London. “A little more generous in the fairways, not as bunker-oriented. But this is unlike a lot of tournaments we play. It's more linksy. I was very surprised when I got here how linksy it is. But you've got to drive the ball well because you can’t be coming out of the rough onto these greens.”

You Can Go Home Again: One of the cool things this week is that many caddies have reunited with their former players for this event. Dan Wilson is looping for Danielle Ammaccapane; Danny Sharp is back with Lorie Kane; Mark Scott has returned to Liselotte Neumann and, in perhaps the duo to watch most closely, Greg Johnston is working with Juli Inkster. They were a team for 12 years and won four majors together, including the 1999 and 2002 U.S. Women’s Opens. “It’s really been funny to see some of the old caddies out here,” says Kay Cockerill. “Some of these guys are off – they have their own jobs, they've gone on to different careers, and they came back out to be here and be a part of this special week, so really cool.”

Don’t Fence Me In: Another cool thing is that Chicago Golf Club will feature minimal gallery roping with only the tee boxes and green complexes cordoned off. Spectators will be able to roam freely down the fairways, which should give the championship a very intimate feel, similar to USGA amateur championships. “It’s really going to be neat to have fans walking down the fairways with these players,” said Matt Sawicki, the championship director for the USGA. “One of the things the players told us is that they wanted this to be an intimate experience with the fans. To be able to walk with them and listen to the golf side, anybody who’s out there walking is probably going to hear a humorous side with some of the banter that goes back and forth. I think the players are going to have a wonderful experience, and I think the fans are going to have an even better experience.”

The Marquee Pairing: At 7:55 a.m. CDT, the grouping of Liselotte Neumann, Juli Inkster and Laura Davies will tee off on No. 1. All three have won the U.S. Women’s Open – Inkster twice – and all three are considered serious contenders to win this week. The scores that come out of that early trio will give a good indication of how Chicago Golf Club will play this week.

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

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