McGill Makes History with Third Different USGA Title
Jill McGill knows about disappointment in the final round of a USGA championship, and now she’s revisited the elation of victory. With the South Course at NCR Country Club at its brilliant and challenging best, McGill closed with an even-par 73 on a day when no one broke par to win the U.S. Senior Women’s Open by one stroke over Leta Lindley at 3-under-par 289 in her first year of eligibility for the championship.
“That sounds amazing,” McGill said when introduced as the champion. “I love the USGA. I've loved it ever since I got spanked in my very first Junior Girls by Brandie Burton. That was a welcome to competitive golf.”
McGill, who won the 1993 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 1994 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, joins Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, JoAnne Carner and Carol Semple Thompson as the only players to win three different USGA championships. The triumph also earned her an exemption into next year’s U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica at Pebble Beach.
“I’ll have to set my schedule now,” said McGill when told about the exemption to Pebble Beach. “I look forward to it. That place is heaven on earth.”
McGill, who was paired with Annika Sorenstam in the final round on Sunday, also played with Sorenstam in the final round of the 2002 U.S. Women’s Open at Prairie Dunes. McGill began that day two strokes off Sorenstam’s lead but started bogey-bogey on her way to a 78 as Juli Inkster closed with a 66 to win by two strokes over Sorenstam.
This time, it was McGill who got the best of Sorenstam, the defending champion who was briefly tied with Laura Davies, the 2018 champ, and Helen Alfredsson, who won in 2019, for the final-round lead after a birdie on No. 1. But Sorenstam, who had trouble finding consistency all week, fell back with three consecutive bogeys beginning on No. 3 and shot 77.
Meanwhile, McGill stayed focused on her own game.
Lindley birdied the final hole to claim second place alone at 2-under-par 290 with Alfredsson and Catriona Matthew at 291. Inkster was at 293 along with Sorenstam and Davies.
“Amazing, just amazing,” said Lindley after closing with a 74. “I can remember JoAnne [Carner] was 60 and she was still playing out on the LPGA Tour and I'm thinking, wow, 60. I don't know if I'm going to be playing golf at 60, but now that I'm here at 50, I think it's within the realm of possibility when I see all the amazing golf being played by my peers that are older than me.”
For much of the day it appeared that Davies would capture this title for the second time. When Davies made the turn at five under par, she was two strokes ahead of McGill and three clear of Alfredsson.
Davies had not made a bogey since No. 8 on Friday – a stretch of 39 holes – when she drove into left rough on No. 12, clipped a tree with her second shot, which went out of bounds, then hit another tree with her next shot. Davies eventually got to the green in 6 and two-putted for a quadruple-bogey 8.
“About as tough as I've ever known it, I think,” Davies, who was hobbled by a sore right Achilles, said about the demands of the course on Sunday. “I mean, it's just an accumulation,” she said about exhaustion that was apparent. “It's three weeks of walking with a hobble, the pressure of a final round, and well, I was going really well until the quad.”
Sorenstam, who won by eight strokes last year, came in with high hopes but never found the reliable rhythm that was the hallmark of her World Golf Hall of Fame career.
“I didn't drive it well enough,” she said. “I made birdie on the first and felt great and then somehow just my wheels came off.” When asked if she will compete next year, Sorenstam said: “I don't know. I just got off the course. Right now, I'm not really thinking about that, but I'm definitely not going to play as much.”
The 1986 U.S. Women’s Open was plagued by a series of disasters – a toxic spill, storms, power outages, and earthquake and even a swarm of locusts. This year, everything was perfect, and on Sunday the South Course presented a most demanding challenge.
While several of the other contenders succumbed to the challenges of NCR, McGill was more than up to the task. It was a history-making performance.
“I was very proud to be defending here. As you know, the USGA put a great championship together. I've always enjoyed playing in them. Kind of that's where my career started. I love the golf course. The support has been fabulous, the weather. Everything has been great. I wish my game was a little better.” – Annika Sorenstam
“Well, especially having Matt back on the bag. I felt like we picked up right where we left off and it was like putting on really your favorite comfy sweater. It just felt so natural to be back out here, and it just felt so good to walk the fairways on this championship golf course.” – Leta Lindley about her husband/caddie, Matt Plagmann, who was her caddie on the LPGA Tour
“The Pub Links . It's been a long time. It's been a really, really long time.” – Jill McGill on when she won her last significant tournament (she never won on the LPGA Tour)
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.