It is fast becoming one of the most popular events in the game. And for good reason. The third edition of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open gets underway on Thursday at historic Brooklawn Country Club in Connecticut and the comradery and gratitude from the legends of the women’s game is on full display, just as it was at Chicago Golf Club in 2018 when this championship made its debut and again in 2019 at Pine Needles when Helen Alfredsson finally captured her first USGA title.
“It's great,” Juli Inkster said. “I play a little bit on the Legends Tour, so I see (some of these players) but I'm ecstatic and excited that Annika (Sorenstam) is playing and Catriona Matthew is playing and Helen (Alfredsson) and Laura (Davies). We've got a pretty good field here. So, I think the more you can have the best players in the field, the higher the quality of golf goes up.”
Sorenstam, who is making her U.S. Senior Women’s Open debut, agreed, saying, “Arriving yesterday and seeing many of the players for the first time in 10, 12, maybe even more years - because I retired 13 years ago, but some of these players retired even before that - it was just kind of strange to see them and think, okay, fast forward, here we are 15 years later. Thinking about what everybody has done the last so many years, whether it's getting married, starting a family or just doing other things, it's just been really nice to catch up with players I just haven't seen. It's been really, really nice.”
It’s been nice for the USGA as well. After taking a break in 2020 for COVID, the association didn’t miss a trick when it came to staging an exceptional championship. Brooklawn is one of the classic gems of the Northeast, a track that reminded Inkster of her home club, Pasatiempo, in Northern California.
This championship also gave USGA officials room to return to one of its unofficial traditions – having a little fun with the first-round groupings. They aren’t obvious about it. More than a decade ago, former executive director David Fay put Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood and Tom Watson together in the U.S. Open, the Three W’s, a good grouping with some alteration to boot. But he also put Tom Lehman, Bernhard Langer and Steve Jones together because they were vocal evangelical Christians – the God Squad – which won him no favors with those who found such singling out for religious beliefs to be off-putting. Fay also used to put at least one group of noted curmudgeons together, which gave them another reason to complain.
The practice was abandoned some time back.
But this time around, it’s easy to pick out a few groups that weren’t put together by accident. One involves JoAnne Carner, Carol Semple Thompson and Ellen Port. Between them, they have 22 USGA championships and well over 100 appearances. As USGA ambassadors go, that grouping is hard to beat.
The other is a Captains’ Group, which includes U.S. Solheim Cup captain Pat Hurst playing with her European Solheim Cup counterpart, Catriona Matthew. Both are making their U.S. Senior Women’s Open debuts. The third member of the group is Sarah Ingram, who will lead the U.S. Curtis Cup team in Wales later this summer.
“I don't think we'll be comparing notes out there,” Hurst said with a smile. “There's really nothing to do with the seniors out here. But we'll definitely talk about the (Soheim Cup) I'm sure. Sarah, I don't really know, so it's going to be nice to play with her and get to know her a little bit and hear her thoughts on the Curtis Cup.”
Matthew agreed, saying, “I've been fortunate, I've actually seen Pat I think at ANA and at the U.S. Women's Open and at KPMG. So, we have seen each other a few times this year. But it will be nice to play with her. I think we were at the same (LPGA Tour Q School) back in '94. And I played the Curtis Cup with Sarah Ingram. So, again, it will be nice to see them.”
It’s also nice to see the USGA reinstituting an old tradition and having a little fun with the tee sheet.