Joy-Connelly, Higgins Share 18-Hole Lead at Windy Troon C.C.

By Tom Mackin

| Sep 30, 2023 | Scottsdale, Ariz.

Joy-Connelly, Higgins Share 18-Hole Lead at Windy Troon C.C.

What Happened

There’s a good reason why Troon Country Club’s address is on North Windy Walk Drive. It can get more than a little breezy here, which was exactly the case during the first round of stroke play in the 61st U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. The impact on scoring across the par-72 course designed by Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf, playing at 5,761 yards today, was noticeable.

No player in the field broke par, and the overall scoring average was 84.4, the highest first round average in the championship since the 85.3 average in 2016 at Wellesley Country Club in Massachusetts.

After a relatively calm start this morning in sunny conditions, gusts of up to 35 miles per hour were prevalent the rest of the day, leaving Tara Joy-Connelly and Gigi Higgins, who both had early morning tee times, tied for the lead at even-par 72.

Joy-Connelly of Middleborough, Mass., finished with three birdies on the back nine. The Massachusetts Golf Hall of Famer is playing in her first Senior Women’s Amateur after turning 50 last January.

“I felt like missing last year [due to a rotator cuff injury], my last true Mid-Am year, I put a lot of pressure on myself to start this year with the U.S. Senior Women’s Open and the Mid-Am,” she said. “I have a friend (Chris Kepko) here this week who has caddied for me before, and we’ve had some success, so I said look, we have to keep it fun because we’ve always been fun. So I’m like, ‘Don’t let me put that kind of pressure on myself.’”  

Higgins of Cape Coral, Fla., made par on her first 10 holes before mixing two birdies with two bogeys, plus four additional pars, on the back nine.

“It (the wind) kicked up a little bit in the morning and then it kicked up on the back,” she said. “Then it would go away. It was kind of like, ‘Okay, who has honors?’ because it was wailing. You’d think, ‘Thank God I’m not up.’ But yeah, it was just kind of off and on gusts.”

At the 2021 Senior Women’s Amateur at The Lakewood Club (Dogwood Course) in Point Clear, Ala., Higgins was co-medalist with eventual champion Lara Tennant of Portland, Ore. Staying grounded on Saturday kept her in position to repeat the feat.

“It’s really just that unconscious golf where you never get ahead of yourself,” said Higgins. “You just stay right there. This is my shot. Don’t get ahead. Don’t get upset. Just hit and go.”

Two players are in second place at 1-over par, including 3-time Senior Women’s Amateur champion Tennant, who had her father, George Mack, an original Troon Country Club member, as her caddie. 

Floridian Gigi Higgins made two birdies and two bogeys in her opening round of stroke play on Saturday at Troon C.C. (USGA/Jason E. Miczek)

Floridian Gigi Higgins made two birdies and two bogeys in her opening round of stroke play on Saturday at Troon C.C. (USGA/Jason E. Miczek)

“Well, I think we’ve been talking about this tournament all year long, so it’s been one of those things where we’ve just been really excited to be here together,” she said. “I think the course, as we played it today, just got a little bit more difficult, but I’m definitely pleased with my round.”

Tennant is tied with Pamela Kuong of Wellesley Hills, Mass. “I had no three putts which is unbelievable on this golf course to have no three putts,” said Kuong. “The goal is to be top 64 so I can get into match play, and nothing more than that. So, hopefully I put myself in a good enough position that I can make match play.”

Four players are tied at 2-over par: Sarah Gallagher of Canton, Ga.; Kim Eaton of Mesa, Ariz.; Kathy Glennon of Naples, Fla.; and Kathy Hartwiger of Pinehurst, N.C.

What's Next

Round 2 of stroke play will begin Sunday at 7:15 a.m. MST. The low 64 scorers following the second round will qualify for match play, which begins on Monday. If necessary, a playoff to determine the final match-play spots will take place on Monday morning. 

Three-time champion Lara Tennant, whose father was an original member of Troon C.C., got off to a strong start with a 73 on Saturday. (USGA/Jason E. Miczek)

Three-time champion Lara Tennant, whose father was an original member of Troon C.C., got off to a strong start with a 73 on Saturday. (USGA/Jason E. Miczek)


  • Of the seven Arizona residents in the field, Kim Eaton carded the lowest score of the first round at 2-over 74. Making that score even more impressive was that the 64-year-old played with an injured right hand after being in a car accident earlier this week.

  • A trio of 3-time winners of the championship are in the field. Diane Lang (2005, 2006, 2008), Lara Tennant (2018, 2019, 2021) and Ellen Port (2012, 2013, 2016). Tennant is the low scorer from that group after a first-round 73, with Port at 5 over (77) and Lang at 14 over (86).

  • Defending champion Shelly Stouffer, of Canada, finished with a 3-over 75, leaving her tied for 11th.

  • Noreen Mohler, of Bethlehem, Pa., made the lone eagle of the first round. It came on the 296-yard, par-4 fourth hole, which ranked as the easiest hole of the day. Mohler is a past USA Curtis Cup player and captain.


“This is what I play for every year. I don’t care about anything else. It’s just this.” – Gigi Higgins regarding the importance she places on the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur.

“It’s very cool, I mean you might even say you put a little bit more pressure on yourself. But I’m trying not to, I’m trying to go out there and just play my own game.” – Shelly Stouffer on playing as the defending champion.

“We met at the 2011 Women’s Mid-Am in Bayville (Virginia). He was my fifth caddie there. I went through a few. And he stuck, and we went to the semifinals. It was pretty fun.” – Tara Joy-Connelly on working with caddie Chris Kepko this week.

“No, definitely not. I’m from Boston so we don’t have desert. But yeah, you’ve got to be apt, you have to keep it straight and there’s no question with the greens - depending on where you are - can be super-fast, even if you’re uphill. So every time we get a round in, we’re trying to say ‘Well, okay, is this a fast putt, a slow putt?’ Course knowledge helps a lot.” – Pamela Kuong on whether she has a lot of experience playing desert golf and what she has learned so far at Troon Country Club.

“The only advantage is that I get to sleep in my own bed. You still have to come out, even if it’s in your hometown. Sometimes, playing in your hometown or your home course is not a good thing because you try too hard. You want to play good for everybody who you’re representing, but I just went out and swung today and it went well.” – Kim Eaton, an Arizona resident, who shot 74 today in her 14th consecutive U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur.  

Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.