Historic events don’t announce themselves and usually are not recognized as they happen, but are best appreciated when viewed with the benefit of time. Such was the case when Liselotte Neumann won the 1988 U.S. Women’s Open Championship. No one knew it then, but it was a game-changer.
The one instance in which history can be appreciated as it unfolds is when something happens for the first time. In that regard, Neumann gets a chance to be part of another game-changing event this summer when she tees it up in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open July 12-15 at Chicago Golf Club.
When Neumann, of Sweden, held off future Hall-of–Famer Patty Sheehan by three strokes at Baltimore Country Club in 1988 to win the 43rd U.S. Women's Open, she was only the fifth international player to capture the event first staged in 1946. And, coming on the heels of the victory by England’s Laura Davies a year earlier, it marked the first time that international players had claimed the title in consecutive years.
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Oh, how times have changed. Since 1995, 15 of the 23 winners have been international players. The women’s game has truly become global. Neumann’s victory also signaled another twist in the road. At 22 and an LPGA rookie, she became the youngest professional to win the Women’s Open at the time and was only 2 months older than Catherine Lacoste of France was when she triumphed as an amateur in 1967.
If Neumann’s victory was a foreshadowing of the globalization of women’s golf, it was also a warning that the game was going to get younger. In 1998, Se Ri Pak won the Women’s Open at 20 and in 2008 Inbee Park took the title at 19. When Brittany Lang won at CordeValle in 2016, it was the first time in a decade – since Annika Sorenstam in 2006 – that a player over 30 hoisted the trophy.
In 1988, Neumann didn’t know she was a pioneer. This time she will appreciate the historic significance when she tees it up with 119 other women 50 and older at the Charles Blair Macdonald masterpiece as the U.S. Senior Women’s Open debuts as a USGA championship.
“I am very excited about the U.S. Senior Women’s Open,” said Neumann of the 72-hole stroke-play test that will be conducted on the 30th anniversary of her U.S. Women’s Open victory, almost to the day. “I think we will have a good field of players and we will all be very competitive. Most girls play on the Legends Tour and you can see how much we love the game and enjoy competing.”
Neumann was an LPGA rookie with several wins on the Ladies European Tour when she arrived in Baltimore. When she left after outlasting not just Sheehan, who would go on to win the Women’s Open twice, but also 1983 champion Jan Stephenson and Juli Inkster, who would also win two titles, Neumann had the first of her 13 LPGA titles in a career in which she would win more than 30 events worldwide. She did it in style, as her total of 7-under-par 277 broke Pat Bradley’s championship scoring record from 1981 by two strokes.
“I remember walking up the 18th fairway with my caddie, Mark Scott, after I hit my second shot on the green,” says Neumann, who opened with a 67 and closed with a pair of 69s as she led or co-led after each round. “He put an arm around me and said, ‘You go ahead and enjoy your walk up there.’”
Neumann, who has won three times on the Legends Tour, the senior tour for women, was a youngster when she won in Baltimore. But anyone who watched her knew that big things were in store for the player who would represent Europe six times in the Solheim Cup, as well as captain the team to victory in 2013.
“I had won some tournaments on the European Tour before I came over to the U.S. in 1988, so I knew how to win and play well under pressure,” said Neumann, who will turn 52 on May 20. “But winning the U.S. Open was way bigger than I expected. That win gave me confidence, new sponsors and lots of opportunities to play around the world. That win changed my life.”
Three-time Women’s Open champion and fellow Swede Annika Sorenstam, who was 17 at the time, has often said that Neumann’s U.S. Open win inspired her more than anything else growing up.
“She comes from a little town just like I do, she grew up playing lots of sports. For her to win the U.S. Open, it was huge,” Sorenstam told The Baltimore Sun in 2005. “It gave girls like me the thought that, maybe I can do it. We needed someone to break the ice.”
Now Neumann gets a chance to help kick off a championship that can change the lives of lots of players down the road and expand the footprint of women’s golf as it continues to grow on a competitive and recreational level.
“I don't know anything about Chicago Golf Club except that it’s supposed to be one of the best,” says Neumann of the storied Wheaton, Ill., club, which has its own place in history as one of the five founding clubs of the USGA in 1894. It has also hosted 11 previous USGA championships, including three U.S. Opens. “To get ready, I’ll play in the Legends events that we have and some pro-ams. I’ll also work a lot on my short game and my fitness. That’s all I can do.”
Thirty years ago, Neumann was part of a movement that changed women’s golf. In July, she gets a chance to play Pioneer: The Sequel. And don’t be surprised if she has a starring role as one of those fighting for the privilege to be the first person to hoist the trophy of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.