The words of warning by players after practice rounds at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club proved to be prophetic. The Donald Ross design was a brute in Thursday’s opening round of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, especially the greens.
With the course average hovering around 80, many competitors were praising the condition of the course while marveling at its difficulty. This was truly a major championship test.
Here are three things to know as the championship moves into Friday’s second round.
Charting the Big Four
The top of the leader board at last year’s inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club was dominated by three players with fairly full competitive schedules. But all three got off to slow starts here at Pine Needles. Laura Davies, who won in 2018 at 16 under par, posted a 4-over 75, as did Trish Johnson, who was third last year at 4 under par. Last year’s runner-up, Juli Inkster, 10 strokes behind Davies’ dominating performance, has work to do after a 78.
But the woman who finished fourth in 2018 seems determined to improve on that effort. Danielle Ammaccapane went out in 35 and back in 37 to card a 1-over 72, a score she posted early in the day and watched hold up as the lead. Pine Needles is a course that fits Ammaccapane’s game. She’s a fairways-and-greens machine who is at her best when par is a good score.
A big part of Friday’s storyline will be whether Ammaccapane can continue her steady play and if Davies, Johnson and Inkster can position themselves for the weekend within striking distance of the lead.
One fact of note in the 120-player field is that 34 amateurs qualified, which might indicate that there are more opportunities to compete for senior women amateurs than there are for senior women professionals. The 19-year-old Legends Tour, which is for professionals 45 and older, has five events this year plus the Senior LPGA Championship. The age requirement for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open is 50.
Among the amateurs who played well in the opening round were Marianne Towersey (76); Lisa McGill (76); Sally Krueger (77); Hui Chong Dofflemyer (78); and Terrill Samuel, Amy Ellertson, Lynne Cowan and Marilyn Hardy all at 79.
Keep an eye out Friday to see which amateurs not only make the cut of low 50 and ties but also play their way into contention.
A Major Test
There have been three U.S. Women’s Opens at Pine Needles with three impressive champions: Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Cristie Kerr. This has always been a place where par is a good score.
Sorenstam won at 8 under par, but the runner-up was 2 under. Webb took home the title at 7 under par with the next best 1 over par. And Kerr was 5 under, with 3 under in second place.
Most players left Thursday thinking hole locations will be more accessible on Friday. In the first round, 12 hole locations were six paces or less from the edge of the green and eight were five paces or less.
Keep an eye out when the green sheets are tweeted out Friday. There may be more hole locations in the middle of greens, perhaps opening the door for several players to improve on their first-round scores.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.