Lara Tennant with her father and caddie George Mack Sr (USGA photo)
VERO BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 11, 2018) – Lara Tennant’s first instinct after sitting down with assembled writers Wednesday afternoon, post-U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur victory, was to apologize for her short memory. Tennant wasn’t sure how well she’d be able to recall shots from her 18-hole final with Sue Wooster. It was a window into what’s been going on in the 51-year-old’s head all week.
Truly, this week at Orchid Island Golf & Country Club in the late-summer Florida heat was about hitting one shot at a time and leaving everything else behind.
“I really tried to think about one shot at a time the entire tournament and just go with the next shot,” Tennant said. “So that probably helped me physically as well as mentally. I never got too far ahead of myself.”
Tennant has a short but deep history with this championship. After all, she’s only been eligible for two years. Last year, the tournament was played at Tennant’s home course, Waverley Golf Club in Portland, Ore. Course members wanted it that way – in fact, they had asked Tennant years before when she would become eligible for this event. On the year Tennant turned 50, Waverley hosted.
Golf success cannot be scripted, however, and even though Tennant was co-medalist a year ago, she went out in the first round. Consequently, her Round-of-64 match this week became the toughest for her, but she defeated Susan Marchese 3 and 1 to keep going.
Instead, Tennant became a USGA champion three time zones and 3,000 miles away from her Portland home. Representing Waverley, however, was so important to her that she rushed off the 16th green Wednesday afternoon, where the match had ended, and traded a wide-brimmed ballcap for one emblazoned with a Waverley “W” logo. That’s what she wanted to be wearing when this victory went into USGA history.
It’s understandable, considering that her husband Bob grew up in a house on the 12 hole, her father Georgie Mack Sr. learned to play at the course and that now, Waverley has adopted her as their own, too.
“I just want to do them proud,” she said.
At dinner the night before the championship match, Tennant got a bit of sage advice from Ellen Port, a three-time U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion (and seven-time USGA champion). Port quoted the late Rhonda Glenn, a sportscaster and longtime USGA communications manager who had cornered her before her first U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur victory at Hershey (Pa.) Country Club in 2012.
Port repeated her words to a new friend.
“This is it. This is special. You need to go do this,” Port said. It was a way to communicate that opportunities such as this do not come around very often.
Tennant’s response back to Port made the competitive veteran believe that Tennant would go out the next day and get it done.
“I got it,” Tennant simply said.
Tennant never looked tired Wednesday as she putted her way to the title. She dropped a 12-footer for birdie to win the first hole and led the rest of the match. She had an opportunity end it on the par-3 15th but faced a challenging uphill birdie putt into the grain and left it 10 feet short. She missed the par putt, too, and Wooster won her first and last hole of the day.
Tennant closed out the match on the 16th green when both players made par.
Throughout the week, Tennant’s 78-year-old father George Mack Sr., went step for step with his daughter – except that in Wednesday’s championship match, Tennant rode a golf cart to preserve her legs while her father walked. Orchid Island members estimate 10 rounds around their club as being a 50-mile trek.
As a caddie, Mack was able to club his daughter effectively because they hit the ball a similar distance through the bag. It was a tables-turned scenario, considering that much of what Tennant knows about the game she learned through caddying for her father as a child in various state and local golf tournaments.
“I learned the game from my dad by watching him compete,” Tennant said. “He's a great competitor. Was a great amateur.”
Mack also has made five USGA starts, most recently at the 1996 U.S. Senior Amateur. Mack’s love of golf bled through to all five of his children, who all played collegiately. Golf became the family game.
As for Wooster, a week of playing golf in the Florida heat finally caught up to her on a day when she couldn’t get the putts to fall. Wooster dropped a 40-footer for birdie at No. 3 – then Tennant dropped a 9-footer on top of her to tie – but it was the last putt she made all day.
Wooster has won national titles in Canada, New Zealand and her native Australia. Making it to the finals of the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur is good enough – for now.
“Tonight I’ll sit back and have a few drinks and say, ‘Well, I did pretty good,’” Wooster said.
Walking to the first tee for the start of Wednesday’s final match, Wooster got a pep talk from her son Tyler, who is back home in Melbourne, Australia. Wooster’s husband Keith had woken him up while Sue was practicing on the range. Tyler, who shares a swing coach with him mother, has been crucial to her success in the past year, often giving a swing tip by FaceTime. He even flew over to caddie at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
On Wednesday morning, Tyler spoke exactly the words that Sue needed to hear.
“He said, ‘Mom, I’m so proud of you, no matter what happens today,’” Sue recalled with pride.
Therein lies the beauty of this championship. Between them, Sue Wooster and Tennant have nine children. Back home in Portland, the Tennant kids are also watching closely. This week completes a lesson, the seeds of which Tennant first planted a year ago.
“Last year when I lost in the first round they were so disappointed,” she said. “Of course I was too, but I have to say I took it as a teaching moment as a mother. You have to teach your children how to be a good winner and how to be a good loser. I hope I did that. I think I did.”View results for U.S. Senior Women's Amateur