By JOHN REITMAN
Money isn’t everything.
That might sound odd coming from a professional golfer, but for Cheryl Fox, director of golf at Fostoria Country Club, there is more to golf on the senior circuit than just a payday.
A year after missing the cut by two strokes in the inaugural U.S. Women’s Senior Open at Chicago Golf Club, Fox finished in the top 20 at this year’s follow-up event in Pinehurst, North Carolina, at Peggy Kirk Bell’s Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club. That finish has put her in good stead for next year’s tournament at Brooklawn Country Club in Connecticut.
“I finished 16th at Pine Needles, and that means I’m exempt for next year at Brooklawn,” Fox said. “That’s awesome. That’s better than money.”
The U.S. Women’s Senior Open is open to qualifying professional and amateur women 50 and over. Talk of such a tournament that would honor the pioneers of women’s golf, like Bell, has been ongoing for years. Last year’s inaugural event at Chicago Golf Club, one of the four courses that founded the USGA, included players like JoAnne Carner and Pat Bradley. Bradley skipped this year’s event. Bell, a Findlay native who died in 2016 in Pinehurst, never lived to see either event.
That next level of senior-eligible players are reaping the benefits.
Laura Davies won the inaugural event. Helen Alfredsson took home this year’s title. Juli Inkster was the runner-up in both.
“There was talk that a tournament like this was 10 years too late,” Fox said. “The concern was those who made those contributions that made this tournament possible were getting too old to be competitive.
“I was thoroughly excited to play in it. It has been extremely meaningful for me. I haven’t made the contributions some of these players have made. I think it was more meaningful for them.”
By this year’s final round, Fox was near the top in many statistical categories, including driving distance and greens in regulation. But she was 43rd in putting.
Pine Needles is a 1927 Donald Ross design, complete with Ross’s trademark turtleback greens that can be a challenge for a good putter and a nightmare for someone struggling with the flat stick.
“Those greens at Pine Needles were so daunting, and there is so much Donald Ross runoff that it eliminates the areas you can hit a ball to and hold the green,” Fox said.
“That has been my weakness all year. I’ve been spending more time on my short game and my putting game. But the tournaments I play in are different greens than I am used to playing on. I usually have to make adjustments because tournament greens usually are so fast compared to what we have around here.”
A native of Tiffin, Fox spends winters in Fort Pierce, Florida, where she is director of golf at Gator Trace Golf Club. She earned a spot in this year’s Open by winning an April qualifier at The Club at Eaglebrooke in Lakeland.
That round got off to a rocky start when Fox bogeyed three of the first four holes, But she rallied to finish at a tournament-winning even par.
That comeback required a gambler’s mentality with a lot of high risk-reward shots.
“I was hitting shots that Tiger Woods wouldn’t have tried,” Fox said. “That’s because the desire to go back is so great, you’ll do whatever you have to.”
Fox has followed up with top 25 finishes in both the Colorado Women’s Open and Michigan Women’s Open. She finished 15th overall at the Ohio Women’s Open where she also won the senior division.
Working with her “coach” Tony Feminis, a PGA teaching pro in the Chicago area, has helped her game and left her more motivated than she has been in years.
“There has been a lot of cause for enthusiasm this year,” Fox said. “When I want to hit balls on the range in 90-degree heat, there is cause for enthusiasm. I wish I was this motivated to play 10 years ago.”
John Reitman is director of news and education for TurfNet, a news and information service for the golf industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.