Scottish Open and John Deere Classic be damned; this week's most intriguing golf event is the U.S. Senior Women's Open in Wheaton, Illinois.
Famed Chicago Golf Club will play host to the inaugural event, and if that doesn't sell you on its own, the fact that you can watch some of the best players in the world take it on should certainly help. Without leaning on hyperbole too much, watching these women playing this course will make for golf like you’'ve never really seen before. Here's why that, and a few other things, have me hyped for the event this weekend.
Pat Bradley is my new golf mom
Okay, maybe golf grandma. Either way, she's Keegan Bradley's aunt, a 6-time major winner and I'm fully in her corner having played the course with her last month. Watching her analyze Chicago G.C. from a competitor's perspective as she walked off yardages, pondered carry distances, etc. was fascinating.
Bradley earned an exemption into the field via her 1981 U.S. Women's Open win at La Grange Country Club, just 20 miles away, so the Chicago golf lifers will likely be in her corner, too. Nor is this some courtesy invite that she's accepting for the good of the game — Bradley is stoked to be here. At 67, she has repeatedly mentioned how she wished it existed 17 years ago, but insists that the event comes better late than never. Such is the feeling for many of her comrades, too. Bradley fielded many excited phone calls from her former LPGA contemporaries after the initial announcement was made in Feb. 2015. They’re hyped. You should be, too.
Chicago Golf Club
The host course has occasionally been referred to as the Augusta National of the Midwest. In terms of exclusivity, that's spot on. Chicago GC has less than 150 members (and doesn't really want any more) and, like Augusta, resisted admitting African-American and female members until the last few decades. This seems to mark a new era for the club, so kudos to them for stepping up as host for this long-overdue event.
In terms of dodging publicity, Chicago GC is much more like Pine Valley. It's a golf-focused (essentially golf-only) club, so much that you can’t really visit any corner of it without seeing golf history…and not much else. The member I played with put it plainly: "I've heard there's a swimming pool at the club, but I haven't seen it." In the men's locker room, there's a copy of the patent for James Foulis' Niblick. Just outside that locker room is a copy of the original rules of golf. This is one of the five founding members of the USGA and the host of the third U.S. Open in 1897. History is a BIG part of the story.
If viewers are lucky, the USGA/Fox will play to that course history, blowing out many club-related videos just like they did for Shinnecock and providing the viewer with plenty of info about the original C.B. Macdonald design and Seth Raynor redesign. That will (hopefully) showcase the phenomenal current-day work of superintendent Scott Bordner, who reached Chicago GC seven years ago after an extended stint working under Jon Jennings at Merion. (He has a great Golf Course Dog named Wrigley. Just an FYI if you're ever on site.)
CGC is the perfect site
Someone will shoot 20 under to win the John Deere this weekend, and someone else will shoot 13 under to win the Scottish Open. I have no clue how Chicago Golf Club will play according to par (not that that really matters). But the course stretches to 6,700 yards as is. It’s not going to host another U.S. Open in its current state. The membership likely isn’t interested in hosting other championships anyway, so we may not see more championship golf at CGC for a while. Take it!
One thing we know — it's going to be hot. High temperatures are in the upper 80s and lower 90s. There will be thick, grabby fescue. The players who navigate those conditions will be in the running. The women will play a course just over 6,000 yards at a par of 73, and the setup should be plenty tough, which is good, but don’t expect it to get out of hand. Having played the course on a humid, 80-degree day, it's plenty tough. The last thing we need is for this to turn into a brutal slog for many players in their 60s or 70s (many of whom haven’t played a lot of competitive golf recently).
It was easy to lose track of the game's greatest female players. Not anymore.
These women are some of the game's grittiest competitors. While we played together, Bradley was working her way from tee box to tee box, analyzing every sight line, matching it with landing zones in each fairway and approach positions to each green. At 67 years old, it’s probably an uphill battle for her to contend, but she's clearly dialed in to feeling the rush of competitive golf again. That atmosphere alone should make this a great event to watch. Plus, consider what a win might mean to a golfer who has fallen from the limelight or never known it at all?
"Think about Colin Montgomerie," Bradley said after I asked her how important she thinks the event will become. “He never got his major as a PGA Tour player, but was able to win senior majors, show off his longevity and how good he could be at his age. These women get a chance to compete for their national title…again."
It's true. Putting the greatest golfers at [insert specific age] on a greater stage is exactly what the USGA is all about. My only concern is there won't be enough time to put the required storylines on display (see below).
Storylines, storylines, storylines
A handful of players are in the field who just graduated to their 50s, entering the event with a clear age advantage, but there are also two 79-year-olds in the field. Murle Lindstrom Breer won the U.S. Women's Open more than 55 years ago (1962). I really hope the FS1 broadcast can speak to stories like that. We don't need to trumpet anyone's age as some achievement, but if these women shoot their age at a USGA setup, that'd be incredible. This being the first event of its kind in the women's game, there should be attention devoted to the fact that many of these women have maintained their skills well beyond their competitive careers. That alone is impressive, and if they contend for the championship? SIGN. ME. UP.
There’s a $1 million purse, too, which is legit. Juli Inkster is among the favorites, for sure. But how about the best amateurs? There has long been a U.S. Senior Women's Amateur (since 1962), but not a Senior Women's Open. So, how do the game's top senior women ams compete with the likes of Inkster or Laura Davies? It'll be interesting to see the contrast play out on the leaderboard.
All this anticipation leads me to the one disappointing aspect of the event: it won't be very visible. Only four hours of coverage will be shown, two hours Saturday and two again Sunday (4-6 p.m. ET on FS1 each day). Ultimately, this isn't sufficient. If you want to launch an event, and you get a phenomenal course to host it, and you get all kinds of golf fans excited for something that was long ignored, you need to get it in front of the people. Four hours isn't enough, especially not when the U.S. Senior (Men's) Open had 20 hours of coverage time over four days.
But I'll be sure to soak up those four hours. You should join me.