History was made at 7 a.m. AKDT when Pamela Chesla hit the opening tee ball of the 60th U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. The Hope, Alaska, resident’s drive marked the first time a shot had been struck in a USGA championship in the Last Frontier, and with the beginning of play, Alaska became the 50th state to host a USGA championship.
While the venue and host state were new, the leader board had a familiar feel with three-time defending champion Lara Tennant at the top. She is joined at 2-over-par 74 by two-time runner-up Sue Wooster, 2019 quarterfinalist Lynne Cowan and championship newcomer Sherry Soto at the 5,762-yard Anchorage Golf Course.
Three players are one stroke back, including 2004 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Corey Weworski, while three-time Women’s Mid-Amateur champion and two-time USA Curtis Cup Team Captain Sarah Ingram is in an eight-player logjam at 4-over 76, two off the lead.
On a day that featured morning rain and temperatures that struggled to climb out of the upper 50s, Tennant opened her title defense with a birdie. After dropping shots at Nos. 2 and 5, she rebounded with a birdie at the par-5 sixth, then reeled off nine consecutive pars. The 55-year-old from Portland, Ore., closed with two late bogeys on 16 and 17.
“These first two rounds, you have to make sure you are moving forward [to match play],” said Tennant. “I try to play pretty conservatively and continue to try to get to know the course.”
Wooster did most of her damage in Round 1 on the par 3s and 5s, which she combined to play in 3 under, despite six bogeys on her card.
“It was nice to see four birdies on a day like today,” said Wooster. “My putting was strong. I snagged a 50-footer on the par-3 13th.”
Few players have been hotter than the 60-year-old Australian coming into the championship. Wooster has notched three significant victories already in 2022, including the European Senior Ladies’ title by eight strokes last month.
“The length of the course is a challenge,” said Wooster. “You need to resist the urge to hit the ball too hard. It's better to be on the fairway, even if you have a longer shot in. Par is going to be a good score these two opening rounds.”
Soto, 55, is playing in her first U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. But the big stage didn’t bother her on Saturday, as she played a steady round that included 14 pars, one birdie and three bogeys – the fewest of any competitor in Round 1. Despite the terrain and weather being starkly different than her home course in Southern California, the Chino Hills resident finds herself in elite company atop the leader board.
“This is a very different golf course than what I am used to playing,” said Soto. “A lot of trees. A lot of undulation in the greens. It was tough to read them. But my caddie was a good reader of the putts today and I did exactly what he said and made some.”
2021 runner-up and seven-time USGA champion Ellen Port opened with a 7-over 79, while 2017 champion Judith Kyrinis rallied for a 77 after a slow start. Four-time champion Carol Semple Thompson, six months removed from shoulder surgery, shot 84.
Round 2 of stroke play will take place on Sunday, after which the field of 132 will be trimmed to the low 64 scorers for match play. Should a playoff be necessary to fill the remaining spots in the draw, it will take place immediately following the conclusion of play on Sunday, starting on No. 10.
“It gave me goosebumps. It made me a little nervous too! But the women here, they are just awesome.” – Alaskan Pamela Chesla, who hit the opening shot of the championship, on the support she received on the first tee
“We saw a bald eagle! It was perched at the top of a tree. Some people saw it flying, I just saw it once it got there. But it was a large one. It was eating something, and the feathers dropped all over the green. How about that. Not something you see often.” – Lara Tennant
“Before I leave, I'd love to get on a dog sled. I'm sticking around for a day after the championship, so going to try to make that happen.” – Sue Wooster
“The mindset for the first two days is really just to stay mentally strong. Stay within myself. And my caddie [Lance Peterson], keeps me levelheaded.” – Sherry Soto
Mike Trostel is the director of championship content for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.