When Lara Tennant arrived at Cedar Rapids Country Club to begin her title defence in the 58th US Senior Women’s Amateur Championship, a repeat performance was not on her radar.
“When I shot 70 in the first round of stroke play, I said I’m so glad I played OK, so that people won’t think my victory was a fluke,” said Tennant, 52, of Portland, Ore.
Tennant backed up her 2018 triumph in remarkably similar fashion: she earned the No.5 seed in stroke play (No.10 last year), then marched through the bracket, ultimately meeting her co-finalist from last year, Sue Wooster of Victoria, and prevailing by the exact same 3-and-2 margin on Thursday morning. But it was not a repeat performance in golf terms.
“This week, my swing wasn't as crisp as it was last year,” Tennant said. “There were times I was confident this week and I played well, but I would say mentally you just have to grind it out, play against par instead of your opponent. That's what I continued to do throughout the week, to stay calm.”
“Last year I honestly apologised to Sue for beating her because at this point in the game, when you've played 10 rounds in eight days you're both exhausted, you both worked hard, you both played well.” – Lara Tennant
Tennant lost the second hole after a poor drive, but she rebounded to win No.4 with a par and took her first lead of the day when she parred the 183-yard par-3 8th hole after Wooster found the water with her tee shot for a double bogey. Wooster then missed three consecutive fairways, and Tennant captured both the 10th and 11th holes with pars to Wooster’s bogies to take firm control.
“You know what? Sue is a tough competitor and a fabulous golfer,” said Tennant, who played at the University of Arizona. “Last year I honestly apologised to Sue for beating her because at this point in the game, when you've played 10 rounds in eight days you're both exhausted, you both worked hard, you both played well. I really had to not be distracted and just focus on my game. You don't get many opportunities to be in the finals of a USGA championship.”
Wooster, who won three matches on the 18th hole, including her quarter-final and semi-final wins on Wednesday, cut into the lead on the par-4 13th when she made a gritty up-and-down and Tennant three-putted. Leading 2 up, Tennant got a crucial break on the next hole. With both players on the plateau green of the par-4 14th in two, Tennant hit the flagstick with her putt from 45 feet away, with the ball stopping a few inches from the hole. Had it not hit the stick, it would have rolled several feet past.
“I think that was the critical shot,” Tennant said. “The ball didn’t go in, but it gave me a two-putt on a very, very long putt. I had been quite a distance away on each of the two previous holes and three-putted them, so I needed a two-putt in there. You have to get some of those breaks in order to win.”
“Sometimes you just say, ‘what can you do?’” Wooster said. “It’s tough, but you always expect your opponent – you’ve got to expect that stuff to happen.”
Both players made two-putt pars on the par-5 15th, and when Wooster missed another fairway to the right on No.16, she needed to aim away from the flagstick on her approach. Tennant made a comfortable par after a crisp iron shot, and when Wooster’s eight-foot try for an up-and-down missed, the match was over.
“When your swing is a little bit off, you just have to learn to play by your gut,” said Wooster, who finished 40th in last year’s inaugural US Senior Women’s Open. “My putting kept me in it. I had only one or two three-putts the whole week. And having said that, I didn’t really hole anything, either. Didn’t hole any 10-, 15-footers, so that was disappointing.”