Johnson in Prime Position to Keep Trophy in English Hands May 18, 2019 | SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. By Ron Sirak

England's Trish Johnson, who finished third last year, equaled the best round in championship history. (USGA/Chris Keane)

U.S. Senior Women's Open Home

Shortly before teeing off in Saturday’s third round of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, Trish Johnson ambled over to Judy Rankin, the World Golf Hall of Fame member serving as honorary starter, and shuffled through the pile of papers on the podium. “Is there a 66 for me in there?” Johnson asked, looking up with a mischievous smile.

Then the lanky Englishwoman cruised down No. 1 and made an eagle on the par 5, following that with a birdie, a par and another birdie on her way to a round that was as hot as Southern Pines as she handled a heretofore unmanageable Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in – wait for it – 66 strokes. Apparently, she found something in that pile of papers in front of Rankin.

Actually, what she found was on the practice green Friday evening after closing out her second-round 72 with a couple of bogeys, mostly due to mistakes on the devilishly tricky Donald Ross greens.

“Putting was, I don't want to say it was awful for two days…” Johnson said Saturday, pausing before she added: “It was awful.” The mystery, she said, was that on the practice green everything was fine.

“It’s just about flow,” she said. “The greens are really quick, not my favorite sort of pace. So I just hit a lot of putts with my eyes closed. It pretty much makes the putter go back the way it’s supposed to go back. I just changed my practice routine a bit and have a practice stroke by the side of the ball with my eyes closed. I missed a couple of short ones, but you're going to. These greens are not easy.”

But for back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16, her 66 – the low round of the week by two strokes and matching the championship record set by Laura Davies in last year’s third round at Chicago Golf Club – Johnson would have posted a staggeringly low number on a golf course hasn’t so much been miserly in handing out birdies as it has been generous with its bogeys.

“I played very well, hit an awful lot of shots close,” said Johnson, who added that the damp chill of England had not prepared her for temperatures that hit the mid 90s.

“I think all my seven birdies were probably within four, five feet, so that was nice,” she said. “A couple of errors, but to be honest, it's so hot out there. I think they're mental errors, and you've just got to accept you're going to do that because it's boiling.”

At the 36-hole mark, Johnson said the goal was to get back to even par by the end of play Sunday. She got there one day sooner and now goes into the final round at even-par 213, tied with Helen Alfredsson and four clear of Juli Inkster.

“I think I was a little bit tense the first two days,” Johnson said. “So today it was just a bit… I don't know, just go and play golf and see what happens, and I got off to an absolute flier. Within half an hour I'm back involved again.”

Johnson, 53, has fashioned a remarkably consistent professional career. She’s played at least one LPGA tournament 28 of the last 30 years, winning three times along with 19 victories on the Ladies European Tour and four on the Legends Tour. She was solo third last year in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open and won the Senior LPGA Championship in 2017.

The Englishwoman played in the U.S. Women’s Open 11 times, with 10th in 1998 her best finish. She was also a member of the winning Great Britain & Ireland team in the 1986 Curtis Cup, capturing all of her points. That same year she made it to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

Now Johnson is trying to add another bit of consistency to her résumé: Keeping the U.S. Senior Women’s Open trophy in the hands of a player from England for the second consecutive year.

“That's a long way ahead,” Johnson said. “You can't think that far ahead. But the answer would be yes. It would be incredibly cool,” she said. “So hopefully I get a good night's sleep, hope for the best, and hope it's not this hot tomorrow.”

And maybe before she tees off for Sunday’s final round she can take another look through that stack of papers on the podium in front of Judy Rankin. There might be another 66 in there that she can find with eyes wide shut.

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

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