Where golf is headed — for girls and Rosie Jones

Rosie Jones sizes up her next shot on Thursday at the Carolina Trace Country Club during the U.S. Women's Open sectional qualifier on Thursday.

Rosie Jones sizes up her next shot on Thursday at the Carolina Trace Country Club during the U.S. Women's Open sectional qualifier on Thursday.

Golf is a girl’s game.

Not a woman’s. Or even a young woman’s.
A girl’s.
And especially not for a woman who’s on the doorstep of 50.
Or is it?
As the scores started the trickle in at the U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifier at Carolina Trace on Thursday, even one of those plastic knives that could be found around the Trace pool area wouldn’t have had much trouble dicing through the cloud of nervous energy.
Back and forth so many of them would walk, down a slight hill on a stone path away from the scoreboard, darting their eyes for a quick glance at the board to see how their names were holding up.
Some knew, of course, that their two rounds weren’t going to be low enough. So there was little reason to hang around. Put the clubs in the trunk and head home or back to the hotel. Nothing else to see here.
But others couldn’t leave, not before knowing for sure whether or not they would be one of the six to claim a berth into next month’s Open, only the most prestigious event in women’s golf.
Watching them, though, it’s clear where the women’s game is heading. Pony tails long and braided or short and puffy — take your pick — seemed to be popping through the backs of nifty, sloped low-profile caps everywhere, the hats nattily completing the matching golf skort and tank top ensemble.
Unless a college logo on a golf bag or on a shirt or a hat gave them away, it was hard to tell exactly what age most of the girls were. They could be 13 like Yueer-Cindy Feng, of Orlando, Fla., by way of China, or 17-year-old Katherine Perry, of Precision Golf School by way of Cary, or 22-year-old Kathleen Ekey, who just finished her senior year at Alabama, by way of Sharon, Ohio.
And, to be fair, it’s been going that way for a while. Morgan Pressel. Paula Creamer. Michelle Wie. Et cetera.
These girls —— OK, so Ekey can be considered a young woman, but you get the point —— were in the hunt, and some were high enough on the board to be at relative ease. But there was still enough pacing being done that if the approaching thunderstorm ever got there and dispensed with its water, little rivulets of impromptu streams likely would’ve appeared in the imperceptible canyons made by the nervous feet.
But 49-year-old Rosie Jones sat in the dead center of all the muted chaos, as if she were the personification of the eye of a hurricane, calm and completely collected. (But not cool. “I need a shower,” she said once. “I feel like I’m gross.”) She was among the first of the 39 players to complete her day of 36 holes, and one of the first to see her final score posted on the leaderboard. She was also the proud owner of one of the very few numbers written in red ink — the sure sign of a score under par.
One cannot say that the game has passed Jones by, even if all of her youthful competitors’ tee shots do. Not after rounds of 70 and 73 left her at 1-under-par on a hot and sticky day on the Lake Course. And armed with the experience of a 13-time winner on the LPGA Tour and more than $8.4 million in earnings over a three-decade-long career, Jones can scan the scoreboard, look over the posted first-round scores that have yet to have the second 18 added, and in staggering rapidity come up with the mathematical probability of her standing in the full field with the precision of an MIT professor. Kind of the golfing version of Rain Man. Yes, she’s been here before.
By far the most accomplished player in the field — still an understatement no matter how much emphasis you place on it — Jones could quietly begin making plans for Saucon Valley Country Club with about half of the scores in. But despite having retired from the LPGA Tour nearly three years ago in 2006, and finding tremendous success in this, her first attempt at qualifying for an Open since her first one 27 years ago, Jones didn’t make a big deal out of things, even as some spectators offered to buy her a drink, make small talk or seek autographs and pictures.
Why go through all of it, though? Is it gunning for one last shot at that elusive major? Jones has been a runner-up in four major championships, but never won one.
Probably not.
“I’m playing a lot of senior women’s golf now,” said Jones, who has played on the Legends Tour since her retirement. “But the USGA doesn’t have an event for senior women, like a U.S. Senior Women’s Open, and since there’s nothing on the senior schedule for the week of the Open, I figured, what the heck? I can try to qualify and maybe bring some exposure to senior women’s golf at the same time.”
But on Thursday, it wasn’t women her age she was reaching out to.
Instead Jones herself made small talk with some of her fellow competitors, young girls seeking wisdom and answers from one player they can only dream to be as successful as. She took down e-mail addresses, offered tips, asked questions, set up opportunities to play rounds with some of them in the near future and offered words of encouragement for players headed out to play in a playoff for the last berth. With low expectations heading into the Open (“If everything’s not perfect, if my stars aren’t aligned just right, it could be a tough go for me,” Jones said), perhaps Jones can have just the opposite effect on the game.
“It’s crazy, Jones said. “Most of them can all hit 3-wood past me off the tee. Way past me. But that’s just how it is now.”
Moments later, the three-person sudden death playoff ended on the first hole — the 505-yard par-5 18th — with California’s Ashleigh Albrecht two-putting for birdie after reaching the green in two shots.
“I can’t believe this is real,” the 18-year-old Albrecht said, her hands still shaking after sinking the 2-foot tap-in for a berth into the Open. “But this was one of my goals — to qualify for the U.S. Open before I graduated from high school.”
Yes, it’s their game now.
Thanks to people like Rosie Jones.

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Filed under Alex Podlogar, Designated Hitter, Golf, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald, U.S. Open

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