Laura Davies, who entered the day with a five-stroke lead over Juli Inkster, shot a final-round 68 on Sunday to complete a dominating victory in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club. Davies finished at 16-under-par 276, 10 strokes clear of Inkster. Before the final round, five-time USGA champion Inkster assessed the task ahead of her, to chase down the red-hot Davies.
“I’m going to have to play a really clean round to even have a chance,” said Inkster, who proceeded to drop two strokes to Davies on the par-5 second hole, with a sloppy bogey to Davies’ birdie. Still, Inkster rallied with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 8 and 9, and it appeared that Davies would drop a stroke to her closest pursuer for the third consecutive hole on the par-3 10th, when she knocked her birdie putt more than 8 feet past the hole as Inkster was making an easy par.
“I think 10 was the turning point,” said Davies. “I hit my first really rank shot of the week, a horrible block-out to the right, and left a ridiculous putt, and somehow managed to two-putt it. I’ll be honest; it wasn’t the greatest hole I’ve ever played, but I think that was when I really started to think I might have one hand on the trophy and just had to get the other one in there.”
That enabled Davies to retain her six-stroke edge, which she bumped to eight three holes later, as she made par and Inkster struggled to a double bogey. Davies’s victory marks just the sixth time in USGA history that a champion won by 10 or more strokes. In fact, only six players finished within 20 strokes of the dominating Davies.
“As she said earlier, she hadn’t won for eight years,” said Trish Johnson, a fellow Englishman who competed for years with Davies on the Ladies’ European Tour and the LPGA Tour. “That’s a long time, even for someone as good as she is. But when she made that putt on 10, you see she had a little pump of the fist, which Laura doesn’t do a lot, and yeah, it was pretty much in the bag then.”
Johnson noted that she defeated Davies in the English Girls’ Junior when Johnson was 13 and Davies 15, “and that was pretty much the last time I beat her.” Johnson said that Davies’ performance in Round 3 was special, when she shot the championship’s low round, a 7-under 66 to Inkster’s 68 to take control.
“Yesterday’s round was possibly the best I’ve ever seen her play,” said Johnson, who was grouped with Davies and Inkster the last two rounds. “She had one poorish drive and one half-ropey iron shot off the tee, but every other iron shot was almost perfect. It was as good a round as I’ve seen in a long, long time. No one was touching her this week when she plays like that.”
Davies won four majors in her career, among 20 LPGA Tour wins and 45 European victories. This one, in a first-ever championship competing against her peers and women’s golf legends on a storied venue, meant a lot to her.
“My last win was in India in 2010, so there’s the pressure you’re playing under when you’re trying to prove to yourself you can still win,” said Davies, 54. “So this ranks highly up there. And obviously because it’s a USGA event, it’s hard to compare tournaments, but this is very high on my list of achievements, I can assure you.”
As Johnson noted, Davies had a couple of wayward drives, but her statistical performance for the week mirrored her margin of victory. Despite hitting only 33 fairways (tied for 52nd among the 55 players who made the cut), she led the field in driving distance (254.9-yard average) and birdies (18), tied for first in total putts (121) and was second in greens in regulation (57 of 72).
Inkster and Johnson both closed with even-par 73s, with Inkster (6-under 286) placing second by two strokes over Johnson (4-under 288). It was another three strokes back to Danielle Ammaccapane, the only other player under par (1-under 291), who was solo fourth by three strokes over Yuko Saito of Japan (2-over 294).
The second U.S. Senior Women’s Open is scheduled for May 16-19, 2019, at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, in Southern Pines, N.C., the sites of three U.S. Women’s Opens, most recently in 2007.