Ahead of the U.S. Open last month, John Bodenhammer, senior managing director of championships for the USGA, discussed his organization’s continued commitment to bringing their hallmark events to historic venues and “cathedrals of the game” across the country. While the sentiment was made in the context of the men’s and women’s national Opens, it rings true for every tournament affiliated with the USGA, even this week’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
The event was only just created in 2018 and in its two previous editions Chicago Golf Club and Pine Needles played host. Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Connecticut, is on the docket this year. Considering its storied history, it fits right in with the other upper-echelon golf facilities that have hosted USGA championships.
The club was founded in 1895 and quickly joined the United States Golf Association just a year later. The original course was a member-designed nine holes that were lengthened to 18 holes in 1911. That course was then redesigned in 1930 by A.W. Tillinghast to its modern layout. Throughout its history, Brooklawn has seen four other USGA championships – a U.S. Junior Amateur, Women’s Open, Senior Open, and Girls’ Junior – and has served as a host venue more than any other facility in Connecticut.
Considering the locale, it’s already set to be a fantastic third edition of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, but the field of competitors features one name that’s sure to garner attention this week as she seeks her fourth USGA title: Annika Sörenstam.
The Swedish Hall of Famer makes her debut this week on the senior women’s circuit, teeing it up competitively for the fifth time this season, something the 50-year-old mother of two wasn’t expecting at this point in her life. It’s been more than a decade since she’s competed professionally (save the start she made at her home club in Florida at the Gainbridge Championship at Lake Nona in February). In that time, so much has changed for Annika.
“I never thought I would come back and play anything,” Sörenstam said. “Obviously, golf is a big part of my life and always will be, but it was more about giving back to the Annika Foundation, to junior girls, just to say thank you really, because without golf I wouldn’t be where I am today.
“It’s been an interesting 13 years. I stepped away from golf in 2008, and I don’t know where 13 years have gone. But I look at my kids, they’re growing up, and time flies. I’m having a good time.”
While for many, motherhood can make newfound aspirations more challenging, Sörenstam’s son, Will, has been a driving factor in her return to the game. For a player who’s “not calling it a comeback,” she’s been putting the work in to shake off the rust and get back in the saddle. One has to wonder if winning as a parent is the Greatest of All Time’s new goal.
“It’s interesting because you know, when (Ava and Will) were born, we thought golf is a great sport because my parents play, so we really tried to encourage them to play,” Sörenstam said. “Early on they really didn’t want to, so we said, ‘fine, whatever you want to do.’ And all of a sudden, it’s changed now. (Will) is the one that’s inspiring me.
“I also appreciate the game a little differently than I did. Before that, golf was my career, that was my life. This was my livelihood. Now, it’s a little bit more fun. By the end of the day, my kids and husband will still love me if I walk away with a bogey or two, where before I felt like the whole world was collapsing. I have a little bit better perspective on things.”
Nobody in the golf world would be shocked if Sörenstam took home the title in her senior debut. But she’s got some fierce competition on tap at Brooklawn.
Defending champion Helen Alfredsson is back in the field after taking home the title two years ago in 2019 by two shots over Juli Inskter and Trish Johnson, both of whom are also teeing it up this week in the COVID-delayed third playing of the event.
Additionally, the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open winner, Dame Laura Davies, is playing as are both Solheim Cup captains, Catroina Matthews and Pat Hurst. Other notable names include Jan Stephenson and Hollis Stacy along with Curtis Cup captain and three-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Sarah Ingram, who’s been making headlines recently for her stellar play in the amateur ranks.
While there’s so much to look forward to, it’s important to take a step back and realize just how special it is for these women to have the chance to compete in a national open. The Legends Tour is a great entity because it provides senior female golfers a place to play. But with limited funding and resources, it can be challenging to maintain a schedule that draws a lot of players.
The USGA’s involvement with the U.S. Senior Women’s Open shows the association’s commitment to fostering continued participation in golf and its respect for the women that helped to build the women’s game. Even Annika, having not played in a major since 2008, recognized the significance of the championship and was itching to show her support as soon as she met the age requirement.
“Turning 50 was certainly a big day, and I realized that maybe I should support this tournament,” said Sörenstam. “I want to thank the USGA for putting this event on to give all us ladies a platform to continue to share our passions.”
That passion will be on full display at Brooklawn Country Club and you can follow some of the game’s greatest throughout the week with coverage on Golf Channel. With an impeccable venue and a stacked field, there’s no doubt that these #WomenWorthWatching are set to put on an incredible show.
Top: No. 16, Brooklawn Country Club Photo: Russell Kirk, USGA
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