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updated: 7/12/2018 7:51 PM

Nancy Lopez helps celebrate an emotional start to the U.S. Senior Women's Open

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  • Hall of Fame golfer Nancy Lopez, left, greets Hollis Stacy at the first tee before the opening round of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open Championship at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.

    Hall of Fame golfer Nancy Lopez, left, greets Hollis Stacy at the first tee before the opening round of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open Championship at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Nancy Lopez, left, winner of 48 LPGA Tour events, greets JoAnne Carner, winner of 43 events, at the first tee before the opening round of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open Championship at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.

    Nancy Lopez, left, winner of 48 LPGA Tour events, greets JoAnne Carner, winner of 43 events, at the first tee before the opening round of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open Championship at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • As honorary starter, Nancy Lopez announces golfers at the first tee during the opening round of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open Championship at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.

    As honorary starter, Nancy Lopez announces golfers at the first tee during the opening round of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open Championship at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Nancy Lopez wipes away tears at the opening ceremony of the U.S. Senior Women's Open Thursday morning at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.

    Nancy Lopez wipes away tears at the opening ceremony of the U.S. Senior Women's Open Thursday morning at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.
    Copyright USGA/Chris Keane

  • JoAnne Carner, aka "Big Mama," tees off to open the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open Championship at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.

    JoAnne Carner, aka "Big Mama," tees off to open the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open Championship at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Juli Inkster, of Los Altos, California, eyes the first hole during the opening round of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open Championship at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.

    Juli Inkster, of Los Altos, California, eyes the first hole during the opening round of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open Championship at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

Nancy Lopez finds herself in an unfamiliar role at the first tee at the storied Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton.

The winner of three LPGA championships and a Hall of Famer, she's wearing a navy blazer and skirt, holding court under the shade of an umbrella inside the ropes just before 7 a.m. Thursday.

Hollis Stacy, the winner of four major championships teeing off in the first group of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open, greets Lopez with a warm embrace.

"You look so official!" Stacy tells her.

Lopez's knee surgery is keeping her from playing in the long-overdue championship for the all-time greats of the women's game, but would she miss them making history?

No way. Not Lopez.

She may not be able to compete in the 120-player field, but she still could accept a ceremonial role as honorary starter.

So as the opening round of the USGA's new championship gets underway, Lopez steps to a podium to do the job at hand, announcing the women, her peers, in this powerhouse group: JoAnne Carner, Stacy and Sandra Palmer.

Lopez's presence contributes to the atmosphere of a family reunion around the historic course. But it may not ease some first-hole jitters at the USGA's first Open championship in 38 years.

Carner, aka "Big Mama," smacks a beautiful drive to the right side of the fairway, but her second shot finds the bunker. After a two-putt, she records a bogey. She goes on to sink a birdie on the 18th to end her round with a 79, which also is her age.

Martha Scatterday is following the group in the gallery, and this fan from Winfield can sense the elation on the links-style course.

"To see the women, some of the names that I've read about since my childhood, to be there for that is just really special," she says.

Earlier in the morning, Lopez wipes away tears at the opening ceremony against the backdrop of a clubhouse frozen in time. The 105-year-old building, with walls covered in ivy not unlike another iconic sports venue, adds a sense of tradition to a new event.

And in keeping with the historic day, USGA championship organizers place souvenirs in a box they will add to a collection of artifacts in their New Jersey museum.

"It is a great privilege to be here at Chicago Golf Club in a city and state that have so warmly welcomed us and all the players as they compete in this inaugural championship that has been a long time coming," USGA President Mark Newell says.

The players here are not surrounded by their entourage or course marshals. The USGA granted their request to allow galleries to walk not far behind the groupings on the wide, immaculate fairways of Chicago Golf, an exclusive, members-only club tucked away from a secluded drive off Plamondon Road.

"It's hard to get in here, so this is our one chance," Wheaton fan Larry Mattson says. "We're just walking around the whole course."

After spending part of the morning following Juli Inkster, a favorite who plays the LPGA Tour and finished the round at even par, Mattson and his friend of more than 40 years, Dave Bach, take a seat on the patio of the Trophy Club, open to anyone with general admission.

Perched on stools with their elbows resting on the counters, they sip $3 coffee admiring panoramic views of the Chicago Golf clubhouse and the nearby 15th green.

"The ambience of it is just wonderful," Mattson says.

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