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The U.S. Senior Women’s Open: A Major Success

Hall of Fame golfer Juli Inkster joins Bob Edwards to talk about the event and the future of the sport

Golfer Julie Inkster

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Bob Edwards: Hello I'm Bob Edwards with an AARP take on today.

AARP is gearing up for its second annual Fit & Fun Health Challenge, which launches this May. The challenge encourages participants to commit to walking at least 30 minutes a day for eight weeks. Active participants will be eligible to enter a sweepstakes with a chance to win a spa weekend getaway for two, but first, the United States Golf Association, one the games governing bodies oversees more than a dozen national championships each year, including its newest addition The U.S. Senior Women's Open.

Juli Inkster, Hall of Famer, and seven-time major champion shares what the tournament means to her and her cohorts.

Juli Inkster: I think the great thing about golf is that there really is no age limit. You know how does your body hold up and I've been very lucky that way, the passion you have for the game, do you get tired of it? I don't. I really enjoy playing and it's kept me young playing against the younger players.

Bob Edwards: The field of 120 women golfers age 50 years and up, both professional and amateur compete against some of the greatest in the sport. Established last year the second edition of the championship will be held at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina between May 16th and 19th. Matt Sawicki, the USGA's Championship Director joins us to discuss the origins of The U.S. Senior Women's Open and what to expect at this year's tournament.

Well, thank you for joining us, Matt.

Matt Sawicki: Yeah Bob, well it's a pleasure to be on.

Bob Edwards: Just last year the USGA hosted the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open at Chicago Golf Club. How did the idea for this tournament come about?

Matt Sawicki: It's really been years in the making. The USGA was formed in 1895 and we've been conducting national championships since that time. We formed our Men's Senior Open Championship in 1980 and ultimately have been discussing conducting a woman's senior open championship since that time. Ultimately it had been discussed at the board level for a number of years and finally when the right resources became available, when the right group of players was there and we ultimately felt we could build this at the appropriate time, that's ultimately when we decided to launch the championship and our inaugural one in Chicago Golf Club truly was a special event, but it was announced in 2015, came to fruition in 2018 and it was the best word I can use to describe it is special.

Bob Edwards: How did the public react when the tournament was announced?

Matt Sawicki: You know what? I think there was a great reaction and part of that was the inaugural venues that we selected. Chicago Golf Club one of our five founding clubs, really is one of the best golf courses in the country, relatively unknown because it keeps a low profile, but just a magnificent place.

Then our second venue, Pine Needles where we're conducting the championship this year truly has a rich history in the game of golf, but more specifically women's golf. Peggy Kirk Bell, who ran Pine Needles Golf Club & Lodge was a pioneer in the women's game and has such a great legacy and connection to many of the players who'll be competing in the championship and the USGA has conducted three wonderful United States Women's Open Championships at Pine Needles where we've had champions like Annika Sörenstam and Karrie Webb and Cristie Kerr. So it's been a wonderful venue.

So I think the foundation of the championship, the venues we selected, there was a just an overwhelming sense of majesty and ultimately when it came to fruition and we conducted it at Chicago Golf Club for the first time the experience was unlike any other the players had experienced before.

Bob Edwards: How does the spectator experience at the Senior Women's Open differ from other major championships?

Matt Sawicki: Yeah, we did something really neat at the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open championship. We actually allowed the fans to walk with the players throughout the entire golf course. So whether a person has gone to a golf tournament or maybe seen one on TV typically there's a rope line and fans have to stay outside that rope line, but part of building the championship, we went and we met with players throughout the buildup and we asked them what experience did they want as part of participating in this championship and ultimately the number one piece of feedback was they wanted to interact with the fans.

So we took away the ropes and so literally a fan could walk with the player from the moment they hit their tee shot, stand just steps away in the middle of the fairway, listen to that discussion or banter between a caddy and a player about how a player might hit a golf shot and then ultimately stand there immediately after they've hit that shot and say, "Wow, I could have done this, I couldn't have done this," but have a different level of appreciation that a fan may not get at a regular tournament event.

I think that did two really unique things for the fans. One, for the person whose real intricate diehard golf fan, they got an unparalleled experience of listening to the player/caddy experience. They could stand there and watch it. For a fan who's a little bit more of a novice, who maybe hasn't been to a golf tournament before, they were able to experience the championship and see the golf course from a unique perspective and perhaps develop a newfound appreciation for what exists at championship golf at that level.

Bob Edwards: Of course The Senior Women's Open was a long time coming to be. I imagine golfers were pretty excited just to be there.

Matt Sawicki: Yeah, the USGA has an illustrious history with women's golf. We've been conducting the U.S. Women's Amateur for 119 years and part of the formation of this championship was really to inspire women to know that golf can be aspirational at all ages, whether at the junior level, at the mid-amateur or even at the competitive level in our Women's Open Championship and know that there are playing opportunities, whether at an amateur or professional level to compete at the senior age level we thought that was important. I think the women who compete in this championship thought it was important and it was a great opportunity for the fans to see a lot of players who they hadn't seen in maybe 15-20 years compete.

I think what everyone walked away from, whether it was the players who already knew it, whether it was the fans who attended or the volunteers who participated, these women still have great game left in them and they're still athletes and while the early part of the week many people commented on how it felt like a reunion with players catching up about their family lives and what they've been doing for a long period of time without seeing each other, the minute there was that first tee shot, the smiles turned quickly into game faces and that competitive spirit that so many of these women displayed throughout their careers immediately came back and they were out there to beat the player next to them. It was just fun to watch.

Bob Edwards: What competitors stood out for you at least year's event?

Matt Sawicki: I think of all the competitors and all the moments my favorite was the first tee shot on Thursday morning and we had Nancy Lopez as our honorary starter and the first person to tee it up and hit a shot was JoAnne Carner, Big Mamma as she was referred to when she played on the LPGA tour and JoAnne was 79 years old when she teed up her shot and JoAnne is the most decorated female in terms of USGA championships and she's striffling right down the middle and she went on to shoot 79.

She shot her age that day and with all the flair and character that we saw of her when she was on the LPGA tour and low and behold she came into the press tent afterwards and she was disappointed that she didn't play better. So that was a moment and a competitor that ultimately stood out to me, but whether it was Laura Davies and her great play, Juli Inkster, seeing Nancy Lopez as our honorary starter, Hollis Stacy who won three Women's Opens and her younger sister Martha Leach who won as our low amateur and ultimately earned the medal as our low amateur during the championship, there was just so many compelling stories and great plays throughout the week. It was just a neat experience all the way around.

Bob Edwards: What about this year?

Matt Sawicki: Yeah, we're obviously excited for this year and I touched on it before, but going to a fantastic venue at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Our dates this year were May 16th through the 19th. We expect a wonderful field of 120 players, a lot of the names that I mentioned before are going to compete again in this year's championship and we're going to a community where we hosted so many USGA championships in the past.

This is a community that supports golf so well. It truly loves the game, there's so many courses in the area. It's a great resort community and it's proven itself time and time again to support our USGA championships. I know the players are thrilled to be there and the community is so excited to host us.

Bob Edwards: So does having a U.S. Senior Women's Open signal a turning point for the game of golf?

Matt Sawicki: You know I think there's great opportunity in the game of golf, particularly for women and the game has boundless opportunities for women to compete and it really was a goal of ours to put these athletes in this age demographic on a grand stage. That's why we broadcast the championship nationally, that's why we built it so intentionally, whether it be the trophy design and the year-long effort it took to put that together, whether it be the million dollar purse that we put forth, this championship is a wonderful opportunity, it's meant to be aspirational to women in this age demographic. So ultimately we hope that it spurs on more opportunities for women and women specifically in this age demographic to play and have competitive tournament opportunities.

Bob Edwards: Maybe in other sports too?

Matt Sawicki: Yeah, absolutely. I think so many people, maybe they get nostalgic about watching these players play. They certainly remember what they were like in their prime, but there's something to be able to go out and watch the people that so many of us grew up watching play the game of golf and were heroes to so many of us. Again, to see them compete on a level where their game still really is quite terrific and I think that's the part that really stuck out to me, was these women can still play and it's still so much fun to come out, to engage with them, to watch them play. I think they're representative of a different era of athletes where they appreciate the game and appreciate the people who come out and support them, much more so than some of the athletes of today.

Bob Edwards: You say it starts May 16th. Can we all watch?

Matt Sawicki: Yeah, absolutely. There are plenty of opportunities to watch on the weekend. Our weekend rounds will be televised on FS1, but most importantly anybody who wants to come out and watch the championship as a fan or even volunteer can learn more about the championship by visiting www.usseniorwomensopen.com to learn more about ticket opportunities, volunteer opportunities and of course all of our broadcast times are listed there as well.

Bob Edwards: Thank you, Matt. Good luck with that tournament.

Matt Sawicki: Thank you so much. Appreciate you having us on and hopefully we've gained a few more fans as a result of your audience.

Bob Edwards: That was USGA championship director, Matt Sawicki, and now Juli Inkster, who has won five USGA championships and over 30 ladies' professional golf association tour career victories. Juli, are you ready?

Juli Inkster: I'm ready.

Bob Edwards: Okay, welcome to the program. What was your reaction when the USGA announced they would host a U.S. Senior Women's Open?

Juli Inkster: I was ecstatic. It was a long time coming, maybe about 10 years too late, but it was a great move in the right direction as far as representing women's golf history.

Bob Edwards: As a multiple past winner of USGA championships what does the tournament mean to you?

Juli Inkster: Any tournament that stamps the USGA logo on is, one, it's very well run, one, it's very well represented, it's got a great -- I mean if you could win any USGA event you've done something. So to win the USGA Senior is definitely on my bucket list. Laura Davies played great last year and deserved to win, but it's something I definitely strive for.

Bob Edwards: What surprised you the most about the inaugural event last year?

Juli Inkster: One, how well it was attended. I didn't expect that many people. Chicago Golf Club did an amazing job on being the first inaugural one. I thought it was a great golf course. I would love the way the USGA set it up. So I think it played for not only now the people that have been playing, but the people who came out of retirement to play in an inaugural USGA senior. So I think we're on our way to a good thing right now.

Bob Edwards: Beyond contending what are you most looking forward to at this year's event?

Juli Inkster: Again, it has a long history with Peggy Kirk Bell. She was a pioneer in women's golf, teaching, playing and I think it's a great representative to go back there. We have had two Women's U.S.Opens there. I think Annika won one and Cristie Kerr won one, so it does have some LPGA history. It's going to be completely different than Chicago Golf Club is kind of a lengthy golf course and Pine Needles is more woodsy and more kind of back East small greens, rolling fairways.

Bob Edwards: How do you like your chances this year?

Juli Inkster: Well, I like them. I've been working on my game and it's been like three weeks, so I'm looking forward to competing.

Bob Edwards: At AARP we talk about the benefits of multi-generational workforces and you've been competing professionally more than 30 years. What have the relationships with older and younger players meant to you throughout your career?

Juli Inkster: I think the great thing about golf is there really is no age limit. It's how does your body hold up and I've been very lucky that way, the passion you have for the game, do you get tired of it? I don't. I really enjoy playing and it's kept me young playing against the younger players. You know I have two daughters, 29 and 25, so I can kind of relate with the younger players, but it definitely keeps me striving to get better and then I'm playing in the seniors in a Legends Tour being able to play with people I competed against in college and talking old stories, memories, so I think I got the best of both worlds right now.

Bob Edwards: So it's benefited you both in performance and other areas of life.

Juli Inkster: Exactly.

Bob Edwards: You've been named the captain for the U.S. Solheim Cup team this year and not for the first time. How do you approach this leadership role?

Juli Inkster: That's a good question. My first time I did it I wasn't really sure. I've played on nine Solheim Cups that I wasn't really sure I would lead. Pretty much I kind of just go by my gut and I just lead the way I want to be led, just with honesty and passion. Everybody is different personality wise, some you have to give them a hug, and some you have to kind of kick them in the rear end, but I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot about the team. I've been able to accomplish a lot of good things in golf and being the captain of the Solheim Cup is by far the icing on the cake for me.

Bob Edwards: What's the dynamic like between you and the assistants and players?

Juli Inkster: Well, the assistants, one of my best friends, Pat Hurst, Nancy Lopez, who's a stalwart in women's golf and a great lady and then someone you might not know but played on the LPG and was a good friend, Wendy Ward. So they've been my assistants the last two times and will be my assistants this time.

It's not really a dictatorship, we all kind of run it, we all kind of voice our opinions and along with the team. I want their input, I want what they're thinking because the bottom line is they're the ones that are playing the golf, they're the ones that are out there in the forces trying to win. I'm just out there being a cheerleader and trying to put them where they can succeed.

Bob Edwards: We've seen major developments in women's golf over the past few years between the U.S. Senior Women's Open, now in its second year and the Augusta National Women's Amateur in April of this year. What are your thoughts on these developments and the future of women's golf and women's sports in general?

Juli Inkster: I think women's golf has... I mean it's worldwide right now. Everybody is playing golf and I think it's great. The LPGA I think is in a great place right now. We have an amazing commissioner in Mike Whan, whose embraced our world wideness and they play all over the world.

As far as the Augusta Junior Amateur Women, Girls, whatever you want to call it, I thought it was great. I'd love to see the LPGA play there one day. I think they could really evolve the LPGA, but I think it's a step in the right direction.

Bob Edwards: Well good luck at the Open.

Juli Inkster: Thank you very much and thanks for having me on.

Bob Edwards: Bye-bye.

Juli Inkster: Bye.

Bob Edwards: That was USGA's Matt Sawicki and Juli Inkster. For ticket information and to learn more about the tournament visit usseniorwomensopen.com. The tournament will be televised on FS1 on May 18th and 19th.

When it comes to promoting healthy habits AARP believes in walking the walk, literally. This May the organization is gearing up for its second annual Fit & Fun Health Challenge where AARP wellness ambassador, Denise Austin is again encouraging participants to commit to walking at least 30 minutes a day for eight weeks with a partner if possible.

Last year an astounding 82,000 people took part in the challenge. This year the goal is to dramatically increase that number by encouraging walkers to join one of three virtual walking teams on the Fit & Fun website, and then track their progress using a new personal digital dashboard.

Walkers can also visit the website to find fresh videos, warmup tips and other motivators to keep their healthy habit going and for those looking for even more incentive to lace up, buddy up and get moving, participants will have a chance to enter a sweepstakes with a grand prize spa weekend getaway for two. Imagine how good that foot massage will feel. So step it up, the challenge starts May 1st and runs through June 30th. Go to aarp.org/challenge to get started and find official rules.

For more, visit aarp.org/podcast, become a subscriber and be sure to rate our podcast on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher and other podcast apps. Thanks for listening. I'm Bob Edwards.

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Established just last year, the U.S. Senior Women’s Open comes to Pine Needles in North Carolina on May 16-19. Matt Sawicki, championship director for the U.S. Golf Association (USGA), and Juli Inkster, a Hall of Famer and seven-time major champion, discuss the newest USGA major championship and what it means for the future of the sport.

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