After three days of practice and preparation at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, the field of 120 talented and inspiring players are ready for the start of the 2nd U.S. Senior Women’s Open. Less than a year removed from an inaugural championship that competitors and fans alike will never forget, there is a similar energy at Pine Needles.
Will another legend become the second player to have her name engraved onto the championship trophy, next to reigning champion Laura Davies? Or will Dame Laura repeat and keep the ultimate prize all to herself?
Here are three things to know as the championship begins on Thursday.
Big Mama Returns
There was a lot to celebrate in 2018 when the U.S. Senior Women’s Open was played for the first time, at iconic Chicago Golf Club. And then one of golf’s all-time greats stole the show. JoAnne Carner, for decades known to the masses as “Big Mama,” teed it up in a USGA championship for the first time in 21 years. She hit the first ball of the championship and, at the age of 79, made memories that her fans will never forget, shooting her age in Round 1.
This week, the 8-time USGA championfrom Kirkland, Wash., is back, gearing up for the challenge that Pine Needles presents. Even with all of her achievements, she knows that teeing it up in a U.S. Open championship at 80 years old isn’t something to take for granted.
“I wasn't sure I'd be alive at 80. It’s just a love of the game, I think more than anything,” Carner said on Wednesday. “I've always loved competing, so to give it one more shot, it's just sort of a goal that you have to have.”
New Look, Same Challenge
Pine Needles is hosting its sixth USGA championship this week, but the U.S. Senior Women’s Open will be the first since Kyle Franz restored the layout to bring back many of the characteristics of the original Donald Ross design. Gone is the heavy rough, replaced by closely mown turf and native areas. And the greens, which used to be bentgrass, are now mini verde ultra-dwarf Bermuda. What hasn’t changed is the test the golf course provides to the best in the game, and all 120 competitors will see that first-hand on Thursday.
“This course gives the players a lot to think about, let alone the mental and physical challenge that will also be put upon them,” said the USGA’s Shannon Rouillard, the championship director of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. “This is a second-shot golf course, there’s no doubt about it. The greens are crowned, so if you don’t hit the ball in the right place, you’re probably going to end up in a closely mown place or in a bunker. Shotmaking is going to be at a premium.”