News & Opinion

Senior women revere their Open moment

It’s been a long time since players have been so excited to play in an event in which they have only a remote chance of succeeding.

Such is the nature of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, which will be played July 12-15 at Chicago Golf Club (fieldqualifiers).

Two of those women are Ellen Port, a seven-time USGA champion, and Pat Bradley, whose six major championships include the 1981 U.S. Women’s Open.

Port, 56, a career amateur from St. Louis who didn’t pick up the game until age 25, and Bradley, 67, a World Golf Hall of Fame member from Hyannis, Mass., have waited years for a shot at an Open for women 50 and older. Both are treating the inaugural event like one of the biggest tournaments of their careers.

“They have been wanting to have this tournament, I heard, since 1983, and it was born in the minds of the women who were professionals,” Port said. “I'm curious to see if it's going to look different in 15 years down the road.”

Much curiosity surrounds the Senior Women’s Open and how it might develop. The 120-player field of professionals and amateurs gives older women a chance to compete again on the national stage.

“It's going to be some of the top women amateurs,” Port said. “It's kind of like how it used to be. Amateurs used to compete with the pros, and they could go head‑to‑head with them. So, I think it's just going to be really exciting because there's going to be a large percentage of amateurs in this field, and then some of the more dominant former LPGA players that some of them have gotten to play more than others.”

Some of the top female professionals, such as Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa, quit touring as professionals to start families and pursue other business interests, but Bradley never really left the game.

Technically, she retired from the LPGA in 1995, the year when she won her 31st and final LPGA tournament, the HealthSouth Inaugural. Since then, Bradley has kept her hand in competitive golf, playing The Legends Tour, which fields a limited schedule for women 45 and older.

After a recent practice round at Chicago Golf Club, an 1895 Charles Blair Macdonald design and one of the USGA’s five founding members, Bradley said she is doing everything possible to be prepared.

“I wish it was 17 years earlier, because I would have a chance,” she said. “It's hard. I don't know what really to expect. I mean, I'm practicing until my hand bleeds, but when you don't put it under the gun and you don't have that competitive reps like I used to, it's going to be difficult.”

Bradley, who was the third woman to win the career Grand Slam, played in the LPGA’s Golden Era, competing against Amy Alcott, JoAnne Carner, Beth Daniel, Betsy King, Nancy Lopez, Meg Mallon and Patty Sheehan, among others.

To win 31 times over a 19-year period, including three of the then-four majors in 1986, speaks to a game that stood the test of time.

“I've been playing in [Legends events] for the last 15 years, which has helped me to maintain some kind of relevancy, but it's been a long time since I stood over a 4-, 5‑footer and needed it,” Bradley said. “I'm thrilled to be a part of this first women's senior, and there's going to be some young 50‑year‑olds that are going to make their mark, and hopefully I can be a part of it.”

Playing at 6,082 and par 73, Chicago Golf Club will be hosting its 12th USGA championship. Just as in 1897, when the club hosted the U.S. Open, won by Joe Lloyd, and the U.S. Amateur, won by H.J. Whigham, the course will be similar in look and feel. With roping around only the greens and tees, fans will be allowed to wander the fairways with the players.

“Women's golf is awesome, but it's not going to draw huge crowds,” Port said. “The people that come out here will be in for a treat, though. The true golf lover is going to see a great event on a beautiful track, and they're going to get close to the action, which is what's really fun.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli