POINT CLEAR, Ala. – Lara Tennant of Portland, Ore., the No. 1 seed and the two-time defending champion, outlasted seven-time USGA champion Ellen Port of St. Louis, Mo., in the 18-hole final of …
POINT CLEAR, Ala. – Lara Tennant of Portland, Ore., the No. 1 seed and the two-time defending champion, outlasted seven-time USGA champion Ellen Port of St. Louis, Mo., in the 18-hole final of the 59th U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship Thursday on the Dogwood Course at The Lakewood Club. (Final numbers: Lara Tennant, (143) def. Ellen Port, (145), 2 and 1).
Tennant, who won this championship in 2018 and 2019 (the 2020 championship was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic), had a 1-up lead when the final resumed on Thursday morning, after drenching rains from Tropical Storm Nicholas postponed the match with just two holes completed the previous day. The course played to 5,491 yards and a par of 71 on Thursday, with the par-4 fourth hole playing as a par 3 due to course conditions.
“I love that trophy; it’s so beautiful, and it’s been at my house for quite a while, because of COVID and winning the two previous years, so I’ve gotten kind of attached to it,” said Tennant, 54, at the post-match ceremony. “It’ll go in the front entry, where it’s been now for three years, as a beautiful reminder of how lucky I am.”
The triumph makes Tennant the 11th player in USGA history to win a championship at least three consecutive times. Carol Semple Thompson, who won this championship four times in a row (1999-2002), is the last to do so in any championship. Thompson competed this week, but missed the cut by two strokes at age 72.
Tennant played like she didn’t want to relinquish the trophy, affectionately dubbed “Big Bertha,” as she birdied the fourth and fifth holes and barely missed making a third straight birdie on No. 6 that would have given her a 3-up advantage. But Port answered with her own birdie on No. 7 and won the ninth when Tennant found the water with her approach shot on the 346-yard par 4 and made double bogey.
It was Port who blinked on the back nine, however. With the match tied, she missed the green with a wedge approach on the par-5 12th, then came up short of the green on the par-4 14th, ending up in the penalty area. A routine two-putt par by Tennant restored her 2-up lead, and they traded bogeys on No. 15 (Port three-putted and Tennant failed to get up and down) and pars on No. 16 and 17, securing the three-peat for Tennant.
For Port, it was a second defeat in a USGA championship final against seven victories, most recently in the 2016 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. The other defeat came in the 2002 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, to Kathy Hartwiger, who reached the quarterfinals this week.
“I was hoping to finish it off, but Lara had other plans,” said Port. “The other time I lost in a final, it was a silent 11-hour car ride home. I’ve matured since then, but I want to apologize to [husband/caddie] Andy in case I’m a little quiet. He carried my bag and was my support through all this.”
“When I won my first one, it was for my dad [George Mack, Sr.],” said Tennant, who played at the University of Arizona. “The second one [in 2019 at Cedar Rapids, Iowa] my husband Bob was able to be there and I won that one for him. This one, I won for my mom [Jan McHugh].”
Tennant’s father caddied for her through the semifinals this week but was unable to stay through the delayed final match. Daniel Alldredge, the 12-year assistant pro at Lakewood, caddied for her the final day.
“Ellen Port is one of the greatest USGA champions of all time,” said Tennant. “I don’t know how to describe her to people because she has everything. She has tremendous skill, a tremendous mind on the golf course, and I feel fortunate to call her a friend. I was lucky in that I was able to play just a little bit better today than she did.”
“I knew that Ellen would get off to a very strong start, she would be fast out of the gates. I told myself that I needed to share in that intensity, and although she won the first hole, I wasn't too stressed about that. But I sort of put the pedal to the metal, and having those two birdies allowed me to calm down a little bit and just get back into my own groove.” – Lara Tennant, on her birdies on Nos. 4 and 5
“My mom [Jan McHugh] is the greatest cheerleader. She's not a golfer herself, but she raised five golfers, and she's watched a lot of golf, and she's just so supportive. She's just so proud to be watching us play, regardless of the outcome.” – Tennant, who dedicated the third win in this championship to her mother
“Before the rain the course was perfect, and today, it was still pretty darn close to perfect. They worked so hard and we really appreciate that.” – Tennant, on the efforts of the Lakewood Club staff on Thursday after the course received 3.5 inches of rain over the past two days
“I love the golf community. Everybody is cheering for everybody, and it's becoming kind of global where with Golf Channel and people are just happy when people do well at any level. I've been surprised, so I'm thrilled for people paying attention to old ladies who play golf.” – Ellen Port, on the support the players received
“I really had to struggle with keeping a good attitude with putting, and you've got to believe you're going to make it, but I started really doubting myself because I just had a lot of good chances and I just didn't read them right, didn't have the speed right. That's hard when you're not putting well.” – Port, on her efforts on the greens
“Lara is such a good putter, such a good player. I knew she wasn't going to make many mistakes. We each made a bad swing. Unfortunately mine was when we were running out of holes [on No. 14], and then I couldn't convert a putt on 15 that would have helped my cause a little bit.” – Port, on the deciding holes of the match.