(FRENCH LICK) – Helen Alfredsson is the unquestioned queen of the senior circuit. The mercurial Swede outplayed one of the legends of the game and outlasted grueling weather on Wednesday to capture the Senior LPGA Championship presented by Old National Bank by three strokes over Hall of Famer Juli Inkster.
Alfie’s victory on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick gave her a sweep of the senior majors this year, adding the Senior LPGA Championship to the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, matching a feat accomplished by Laura Davies last year. Alfie’s victory on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick gave her a sweep of the senior majors this year, adding the Senior LPGA Championship to the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, matching a feat accomplished by Laura Davies last year.
Alfredsson was also second in the Senior LPGA Championship last year and third in 2017, the first year it was a major, as well as T-6 in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open.
That’s a pretty impressive senior resume.
“It was a great feeling to win,” said Alfredsson, whose pre-shot fidgeting gives way to a post-shot body language that speaks in an unknown tongue but communicates her joys and disappointments to all watching.
“I like to be able to do it when the fire gets in your belly,” Alfredsson said. “I’m pleased I was able to keep it together.”
Alfredsson did more than keep it together. She closed with a very impressive 70 to finish 54 holes at two-under-par 214.
Inkster, who was runner-up in a senior major for the third time, was at 217 with Trish Johnson, winner of the 2017 Senior LPGA Championship tied for third at 218 with Moira Dunn-Bohls.
Michele Redman shot an even-par 72 – only Alfredsson and Michelle McGann, who shot a 69, broke par on Wednesday – and was fifth at 219. Becky Morgan was at 220 and Jean Bartholomew, who started the day two back of Inkster and played the final round with her, was at 221.
With the thermometer saying 50 degrees but the 12 mph wind out of the northwest making it feel more like 25, playing conditions were demanding, to say the least. Virtually everyone walked off the course with exhaustion etched on their face
“Everything is such a struggle,” Alfredsson said about playing in the cold which she said was at times accompanied by a three-club wind. “Nothing is smooth. You just need to get away with what you can. But I hit some great shots down the stretch.”
For Inkster, who wanted to add a senior major to her seven LPGA majors, it was a painfully frustrating day that slipped away when she made three bogeys in four holes beginning on No. 11.
“Helen played great,” a shaken Inkster said, trying to regroup mentally after a final-round 76. “It played tough out there,” she said. “[You] just keep trying. My practice swings felt good and then I get over it and it’s like my lower body was just stopping. You know what, the sun’s going to come up tomorrow.”
After two glorious autumn days, the sun didn’t come out on Wednesday and that made the cold feel even colder. On a day like this, making par amounted to making a move. The key was not to compound your mistakes when you inevitably made them.
Going into the final round, Inkster was at three under par, two strokes clear of Johnson, Dunn-Bohls and Bartholomew. Alfredsson and Jones were three back with first-round leader Jill McGill four off the pace.
When Alfredsson birdied No. 8 to get to two under par, she was tied for the lead with Inkster, who was playing two groups behind her. As they went to the back nine it was pretty much a four-woman race with Alfredsson at three under par, Inkster one under and Johnson and Bartholomew even par.
Then one by one the challengers fell away and it became a battle between Alfredsson and Inkster. When Inkster rolled in a 3½ footer for birdie on No. 12 she was back within one stroke of Alfredsson.
But Inkster’s 8-iron was not enough club on the par-3 13th hole, then she chunked her second shot and had to make a 20-footer to save bogey, which she did. When she hit her approach shot heavy on No. 14 and missed a 6-foot par putt, Inkster had her third bogey in four holes and was three back at one over par.
At that point – with birdies hard to come by – Inkster needed Alfredsson to make a mistake and that never happened as Alfie finished with seven consecutive pars and made only one bogey on the day. When she won the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, Alfredsson finished with 13 consecutive pars.
The existence of major championships for senior women is a dream come true for the 78 women who gathered at French Lick this week. The hope among everyone is that the movement started by the Senior LPGA Championship in 2017 will lead to a more robust Legends Tour, the circuit for women 45 and older.
Certainly, it seems that sunny skies are ahead for senior women’s golf.
Next year, the Senior LPGA Championship will played on the same Pete Dye Course at French Lick but it will be July 30-Aug 1, ending on a Saturday.
Even better, the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn CC in Fairfield, Conn., will be just three weeks before on July 9-12, providing a competitive springboard into the Senior LPGA Championship.
That sounds like momentum is building. Certainly, Alfredsson has major momentum going into 2020. She’ll be the defending champ in both majors. That’s enough to make your body language dance, speaking a universal language.