FRENCH LICK, Ind. – This was a big year for the older female golfers who used to labor on the LPGA tour. After years of campaigning, they had two major championships in which to compete during the 2018 season. Today, there is no doubt about who might be the best player.
England’s Laura Davies dominated. On Wednesday, she was a wire-to-wire winner in the second Senior LPGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort. In July, she won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club by a whopping 10 strokes. That’s a Grand Slam, as far as that age group and gender is concerned.
The question now is, where does golf for these women’s stars of the past go from here? They finally have their long-coveted major championships, but not much else.“If we could get a British Senior Open, that’d be great,’’ said Trish Johnson, the champion in the first of those senior majors at French Lick in 2017. “Who knows when that’ll be, but I’m sure it will happen eventually.’’
At least the two existing majors appear to be in good shape. The U.S. Senior Women’s Open, a big hit at Chicago Golf Club, has another quality venue for 2019 in Pine Needles in North Carolina. The Senior LPGA Championship is set at French Lick for three more years.
French Lick chairman Steve Ferguson and director of golf Dave Harner have shown their commitment to the senior female professionals, even taking the step of creating a Legends Hall of Fame in the West Baden Springs Hotel near the Pete Dye Course – a spectacular venue no matter who is playing on it.
For the momentum to grow, though, the Legends Tour will have to step up. The circuit created by Jane Blalock and 25 of her former LPGA colleagues in 2000 hasn’t had it easy. The men’s PGA Tour was quick to embrace its aging stars, but the LPGA has not.
While the Champions Tour continues to thrive for the men 50 and older, the LPGA – other than scheduling its one senior major championship – has steered clear of the players on the Legends circuit, which is open to former tour players 45 and older. Blalock played in the Honors Division of the second Senior LPGA at French Lick and then went home. None of her staff was utilized in the tournament’s operation, and their presence could have been helpful.
If progress is to continue for the senior female pros, it’ll apparently be up to the Legends Tour to carry the load. This segment of players needs more than two major tournaments.
“I think we’ve got a good thing going,’’ said Juli Inkster, who won the Legends Championship in her first start on the circuit, in 2015. “If we had six tournaments and four pro-ams, that would be perfect. We don’t want to play every week.’’
The Legends had eight events on its 2018 schedule, but two were pro-ams and two others were team events. Only the majors could be considered full-fledged tournaments. That’s not enough.
The greatest female star of recent decades, Annika Sorenstam, hasn’t played a tournament since 2008, and Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel, Meg Mallon, Amy Alcott and Betsy King rarely have ventured into Legends events. The shortage of tournaments is certainly a factor. Why work hard to get your game ready for just a couple of tournaments?
Some appearances by the best of the stars – most notably Sorenstam – would help the Legends’ cause.
“A lot of our players have taken 20 years off,” Inkster said. “They just want a chance to compete. It was impressive at Chicago Golf Club, having the people come out to watch. Stuff like that is really special.’’
There are enough senior women who still can play competitively, though, and they’re a global bunch. In the final round of the Senior LPGA, only three of the nine players in the last three groups were Americans, and the three majors spanning the past two seasons have been won by Europeans.
Unlike previous years, the seniors now have a couple of showcase events to demonstrate their talents, but that isn’t enough.
Len Ziehm spent 41 years as the golf columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times before his retirement in 2010. He is in his ninth year as golf columnist for the Daily Herald chain of Chicago suburban newspapers and in his 29th year as golf columnist for Chicagoland Golf, a monthly publication. He also contributes to Chicago District Golfer, the Illinois PGA website and operates lenziehmongolf.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @ZiehmLen