FAIRFIELD, CONNECTICUT | When professionals make up the bulk of a field, amateurs can be an afterthought. Rarely do they have the potential to win unless spectacular talent is involved, nor are they paired with upper-echelon players unless there’s a historic tradition to be upheld, such as with the Masters.
Amateurs, when they do get a start, also tend to be on the younger side with many still in the throes of adolescence, apt to intimidation by their more well-recognized counterparts. Starstruck tendencies come with the territory. But age tends to soften those inclinations.
Lara Tennant, back-to-back U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion in 2018 and 2019, is one of 33 amateurs in the field at Brooklawn Country Club for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. The mother of five is no stranger to the championship, having competed in the two previous editions, even carding the event’s first-ever hole-in-one on the seventh hole at Chicago Country Club in 2018.
The USGA always strives to highlight the prowess of their amateur competitors, so it wasn’t surprising that Tennant was paired with defending champion Helen Alfredsson and former U.S. Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster for the first two rounds. In the elitist of companies, the Portland, Oregon, native made the cut at 8-over par, but admits that while she may have her own stout career in USGA amateur championships, the nerves were still very much present during her opening tee shot.
“I was very nervous on the first tee and then I loosened up a little bit like you always do in golf,” said Tennant. “It was very nerve-wracking. I just wanted to get the ball in the air, which I did.”
“It’s a very special situation and a really unique experience for me as an amateur. I haven’t played in a lot of pro events before, so to watch them play is special.” – Lara Tennant
Having followed the careers of your playing partners, watching them win major championships and compete at the game’s pinnacle, is enough to get anyone frazzled. For Tennant, the opportunity to watch two stalwarts of women’s golf duke it out in a tournament that means so much to them is something to be relished, nerves and all.
“It’s a very special situation and a really unique experience for me as an amateur,” Tennant said. “I haven’t played in a lot of pro events before, so to watch them play is special. Also, it’s pretty amazing to watch them and how they approach this tournament that both of them really want to win. They are such gracious golfers and people and I could not have asked for a better pairing, although I was very nervous at the same time.”
But, don’t be fooled. Savoring the experience aside, Tennant is still setting goals for herself this week just like any other competitor in the field. The measure of her performance will not be score-based but rather focused on how her game stacked up to her expectations. After playing with Inkster and Alfredsson for two days, they may be tempered and may not entail winning, but the standards are not low.
“I didn’t come here to win the golf tournament,” said Tennant. “I came here to play as best as I could, but I know that their level is a completely different level but it’s still so fun to see and play with them. Coming here I set some goals and I hope to achieve them. For me, that’s a good tournament: not necessarily what I shoot but just achieving my goals.”
This event is also a great tune-up for Tennant ahead of the U.S. Women’s Amateur, which she’s set to compete in at Westchester Country Club next week, another exemption awarded to her after her win at Cedar Rapids in 2019. With incredible young talents such as Rachel Heck, Rose Zhang, and Megha Ganne teeing it up, the 54-year-old knows it’s likely she will be one of the oldest – if not the oldest – players in the field.
“I feel like that is just the cherry on top of the sundae for winning the two Senior Amateurs that I won so I look forward to playing Westchester against the young girls,” Tennant said. I think I’ll definitely be the oldest person in the field. But I’m gonna give it my best and go out and compete as well as I can.”
Enjoying herself at some of the biggest championships in golf is par for the course for Tennant and she makes a point to involve her family as much as possible in her competitive jaunts, tapping her daughter to caddie for her this week at Brooklawn.
It’s a perspective that many have brought into the U.S. Senior Women’s Open with mostly spouses and children looping for the players. Players here know better than most that enjoying the walk in a championship like this takes precedence over winning. Especially for Tennant, the time spent together on the golf course is something to be cherished and won’t be taken for granted just because of the magnitude of the moment.
“That’s why I play golf,” she said. “If anyone ever saw me in any tournaments they would know that I only have family members caddie for me. My husband caddied in the U.S. Four-ball for me in Texas. My dad will be at the (Senior Women’s Amateur) and my brother caddied for me in the last (U.S. Senior Women’s Open) and my son in the (U.S. Senior Women’s Open) before that. It’s just bonus time with the people who I love the most.”
And that’s exactly what golf is all about.
Top: Lara Tennant plays her tee shot on the ninth hole Thursday during the first round of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn Country Club. Photo: Darren Carroll, USGA
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