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U.S. Senior Women’s Open a celebration of the game

by Tom Cade, Editor 

While being able to watch some pretty good golf, we learned a few things at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, held Aug. 24-27 at Waverley Country Club in Portland. 

That it is a game. And that it is a game for a lifetime.  

Along with elite-level competition for women golfers age 50 and over, this national championship can also be termed a celebration, an honoring of the game.  

In one of the marquee matchings of the championship, 85-year-old Anne Sander of Seattle and 84-year-old JoAnne Carner of Kirkland (Wash.) were paired together in the first two rounds of the national championship. The two were competitors, friends, and rivals as they dominated the regional and national amateur golf scene in the 1950s and ‘60s.  

Sander was the oldest player in this year’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open field and the oldest to compete in the championship’s five-year history. She has won seven USGA national championships, trailing only the nine titles by Tiger Woods and Bobby Jones, and the eight titles by JoAnne Carner and Jack Nicklaus. Sander has remained a lifelong amateur.  

At the 2023 U.S. Senior Women’s Open held at Waverley Country Club in Portland, 85-year-old Anne Sander and 84-year-old JoAnne Carner were paired together in the first two rounds of the national championship. (Photo by TJC)

Carner, or “Big Mama,” had been selected to hit the opening tee shot of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open in 2018. She has cut a wide swath in the golf world. She didn’t turn professional until the age of 30 but would still go on to win 49 titles as a pro. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1982. 

Sander and Carner were both inducted into the Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame in 1999.  

Carner has a medical exemption (she suffers from COPD) and rode in a cart for the championship.  

Sander could have applied for a medical exemption as well, but chose not to, and in the 92-degree heat, over 36 holes of the first two rounds, barely able to stand, walking along the rolling fairways of Waverley, often leaving her caddie in the dust. 

She would miss the cut by a country mile. But when she teed off the 10th hole to start her back nine in the second round, the players on the adjacent eighth green had stopped to watch her, and then applauded and cheered after Anne hit her shot.  

Sportsmanship. Respect for the game. Understanding its history. 

In the first round at Waverley, Carner shot 80, the sixth time she had shot her age or better in this championship.  

Caddying for Anne in this year’s championship was Steve Sander. The two were married for 28 years, and have now been divorced for 25 years.  

“But we are still good friends,” Steve said with a smile on the first tee of the first round. “We live near each other in Seattle, have our children and grandchildren, and now here I am caddying for her. And happy to be here.” 

And speaking of caddies, there were 25 young local Waverley caddies who looped for the players during the championship.  

Four-time PNGA Women’s Mid-Amateur Player of the Year Amanda Jacobs (right) caddied for World Golf Hall of Famer Amy Alcott in the championship. (Photo by TJC)

In addition to the young students working toward an Evans Caddie Scholarship, caddying for World Golf Hall of Famer Amy Alcott was Amanda Jacobs. A member at Waverley, Jacobs, 36, is a four-time PNGA Women’s Mid-Amateur Player of the Year.  

“How can I pass up this opportunity to take part in an event where most of my heroes growing up are still out there playing?” Jacobs said.  

Also caddying this week was Gretchen Johnson. Herself a two-time PNGA Women’s Mid-Amateur Player of the Year (2018 and 2019), Johnson, 35, has paired with Jacobs several times in team competitions. Most recently, the two qualified for and played in the 2023 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, held this summer at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash., and in September the pair will try to qualify for the 2024 edition of that Four-Ball championship.  

Jacobs and Johnson also both qualified individually for the 2023 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, held Sept. 9-14 in Pennsylvania.  

Johnson caddied for Maggie Will in the championship at Waverley. “I wanted to do what I could to help support this event, and to support women’s golf in general,” Johnson said.  

Gretchen Johnson (right), a two-time PNGA Women’s Mid-Amateur Player of the Year, caddied for Maggie Will, who finished tied for 14th in the championship. (Photo by TJC)

Along with caddying for Will, Johnson assisted in bringing Becker Capital Management onboard as one of the Senior Women’s Open corporate sponsors. She is a director of business development at the company. She is also very active in the golf community, supporting various organizations such as the Tournament Golf Foundation, Jacobsen Youth Initiative and the Evans Scholars Foundation. 

Jacobs and Johnson, both residents of Portland, were the only two Waverley members to caddie during the championship.  

The USGA gave an appropriate nod to history and to the host venue when it selected Lara Tennant to hit the championship’s opening tee shot at 7:15am on Thursday. Tennant is a member of Waverley, is a three-time USGA champion, and a member of the Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame. She had earned exemption into this year’s championship by virtue of winning the 2021 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur (a championship she had won three consecutive years).  

These women golfers, who traveled to the Pacific Northwest to play, were competitive, graceful, cheerful, appreciative. It was like old home week, a chance to see familiar faces, old friends, all those who are still on this journey, still walking the fairways, still working on their swing.  

Grateful for the opportunity to play. Grateful to be here. Their sense of wonder and appreciation was infectious to all those watching, all those working, all those playing.