U.S. SENIOR WOMEN'S OPEN
Ebullient 'Alfie' Has the USGA Title She’s Long Craved
May 19, 2019 | SOUTHERN PINES, N.C.
By Ron Sirak
Twenty-five years after one of golf’s greatest heartbreaks and after a pair of near misses in the game’s toughest test, Helen Alfredsson finally has her USGA championship. And she did it the way she has always played the game – with passion, determination and dead set on having fun.
The U.S. Senior Women’s Open trophy she collected Sunday at the Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club may not entirely make up for the ones that eluded her outstretched fingers in the U.S. Women’s Open, but the smile on her face told a different story for one of the most likeable people in the game.
“It’s a USGA championship,” she said, beaming.
Alfredsson was twice the runner-up in the U.S. Women’s Open. In 1994, she tied for ninth after opening with a 63 and setting the 36-hole scoring record that still stands at 132, a disappointment that still stings. But today, she grinded out the win over an extremely difficult Donald Ross design and under pressure applied by a pair of experienced and accomplished players.
After a double bogey on the par-3 fifth hole put her two strokes behind Trish Johnson, Alfredsson finished with 13 consecutive pars to win by two strokes over Johnson and five-time USGA champion Juli Inkster.
“It eluded me twice before,” Alfredsson said as she hugged the trophy. “I’m at a loss for words, which is rare for me.”
When pressed on how she felt, the 54-year-old Swede who now lives in Orlando said: “Elated. Exhausted. It’s just hard to believe, especially because of how we struggled today.”
With a pair of 69s in the middle rounds, Alfredsson was the only player in the field with two rounds in the 60s. In fact, she was the only player with two rounds under par on a challenging track that produced Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Cristie Kerr as U.S. Women’s Open champions.
And Alfredsson did it without her A game on Sunday.
“This was the worst round she played this week,” said her caddie and husband Kent Nilsson, who knows a thing or two about winning, having collected an NHL championship Stanley Cup with the 1987 Edmonton Oilers. “She made a lot of great par saves,” he said.
Bouncing back from the double bogey and grinding out pars pretty much sums up the way Alfredsson has played throughout a career in which she won seven times on the LPGA, 11 times on the Ladies European Tour and competed for Europe in the Solheim Cup on eight occasions.
“I started feeling the stress last night,” Alfredsson said. Sunday “But when you get out there and you are up against a great player like Trish, you remember what it is like to compete. I’m very pleased with the way we hung in there.”
It is the U.S. Women’s Open that most painfully eluded Alfredsson. She was second in 1993 and 2008 as well as T-13 in 1998 and T-12 in 1999. But it was her T-9 finish in 1994 that left marks. She was 13 under par after 43 holes at Indianwood Golf & Country Club in Michigan but played the last 29 holes 24 over par.
“Nothing ever makes up for the tournaments you didn’t win,” Alfredsson, “but this is a USGA championship and everyone wants to win one of those.”
Alfredsson, who earned an exemption into the U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston in two weeks with the victory, says she’d rather just take some vacation time in Sweden, mostly because she had competed only once since last year’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open in Chicago.
But when she has competed, Alfredsson has shown that the enormous natural talent she possesses is still in abundant supply. She was sixth at the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open last July and then tied for second last October at the Senior LPGA Championship, both events won in a rout by Laura Davies.
“I got away from the pressure,” she said. “I’m liking that.”
But pretty much everyone who knows “Alfie” knows the championship will be more fun if she is there and several of her friends are already working on her to go.
“I haven’t talked with her yet,” said Beth Daniel, who grew up playing the Country Club of Charleston and will be on hand for the U.S. Women’s Open. “Her phone is off, which tells you she is a senior,” Daniel said. “I will try and convince her to play.”
Convincing Alfredsson to play is one thing, but no one has ever had to convince her to compete. She is a ferocious competitor and a woman of enormous heart.
On Sunday at Pine Needles, Alfredsson finally collected the USGA trophy she has always wanted. And it appeared as if it was well worth the wait.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.