ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Next year the U.S. Senior Amateur comes to St. Louis and Old Warson Country Club. But this isn’t about a look ahead. It’s about a look to the past. The last time the Senior AM was in St. Louis was 14 years ago when the city was awash in significant golf events.
The Michelob Light Classic was staged in June at Fox Run Country Club and Emilee Kline topped Annika Sorenstam and Jill McGill by five. Also that summer the Champions Tour was again at Boone Valley with a new format, match play, and Leonard Thompson beat Vincente Fernandez on the final hole.
The Senior AM was at Norwood that September but it was definitely a second tier opportunity because Bellerive was bringing us Tiger Woods and the best players in the world for the American Express Championship. But that was the week of 9/11 and professional golf stepped aside for a national tragedy. The USGA event played to its conclusion but without spectators, and interest only from those amateur competitors who were pretty much quarantined in place like the rest of the country.
I was reminded of that this weekend when I travelled to French Lick, Indiana for the LPGA Legends Tour Championship at the Pete Dye course. The year was 2001, St. Louis went from a golf haven to a golf desert. The LPGA was gone with a fall announcement. Boone Valley pulled the plug soon after. The calendar was empty.
I had gone to French Lick a couple of summers earlier for the press conference announcing the new Legends Tour event. I was only marginally aware of the tour for senior women professionals because I kept in touch with Centralia’s Nancy Scranton who had retired from the LPGA Tour but was keeping her hand in the game with a few senior outings.
The resorts at French Lick are worth the trip alone. The Dye course is an impressive and daunting looking piece of property that sits on the highest land in Indiana. There is a companion Donald Ross course in the same community with a lot of history and 18 holes of pure golf enjoyment. Legends Tour founder Jane Blalock, Australian Jan Stephenson and Scranton held court with the media during a rainstorm before an afternoon outing.
It was a nice trip but very different from what I ran into this past weekend. This time there was a feeling like you might get at a class reunion.
At the outset I dropped in on a Hall of Fame dinner for the Legends with Joanne Carner and Rosie Jones the inductees. As I walked around the crowded ballroom of the Event Center looking for a friendly face I saw LPGA players I vaguely recognized because age (theirs) and time had created that reunion uncertainty.
My professional reason for making the three-and-a-half-hour drive was on the promise that I could count on some one-on-one interviews for the station from the two inductees and any other players I requested. The tournament had promised the players. I hedged my bet by asking Scranton to add an assist.
Get to the course early on Saturday I was told and you can catch the players before they go out. (Unheard of any other tour) Killing time while waiting for my target players to arrive, I wandered along the small range and remembered my eight years working for the LPGA in St. Louis, first for the GHP Heartland Classic at Forest Hills and then the Michelob Light Classic.
There was Cindy Rarick, the Springfield, MO native we promoted as a local when the Tour came to St. Louis. There was Donna Caponi with the same short cropped red hair. The first Media Day for the St. Louis event didn’t have a defending champion to trot in front of the press so we brought in Micelle McGann who was a splashy personality on Tour and there was Michelle with the trade mark hat.
Our first winner in St. Louis was Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann, one of the classiest players I dealt with in those eight years, and I had to wander over to say hello and remind her that she was my first St. Louis winner. She smiled and said “Those were good times.”
Julie Inkster was in the field for the first time as a senior (She eventually won the tournament). Inkster and I had sat in the Cardinal clubhouse talking to Tony LaRussa before Julie threw out the first pitch one year of the St. Louis tournament.
I wanted to stop so many of these players and ask them if they remembered the years in St. Louis. I remembered that Donna Andrews was into horses and brought it up when she did her media room interview one year. I challenged Stephenson when I recorded with her, asking her if she knew how she was a part of a 20th anniversary in St. Louis golf. She needed a hint and I told her she finished second, ten shots back of Annika Sorenstam when the eventual four-time winner in St. Louis picked up her first LPGA Tour stop win in a Hall of Fame career.
Their memories were my memories from those special years. Two of the former champions were not in the Legends field, Klein, the last champion, and Vickie Fergon, Big Vick, who shot 63 on on Friday morning when none of the press had arrived at Forest Hills. And of course Sorenstam was not on hand, probably still too young to be called a senior and too busy to spend a weekend in southern Indiana.
My last interview of the day came from the last group on the course and it included the penultimate winner in St. Louis, Canada’s Lori Kane. I waited until she signed her card and concluded another conversation and said she probably wouldn’t remember me but could we do a brief interview. She said “I do remember you but I am not sure from where.” A variation on the reunion line. I told her I was the media guy for her first professional win, the Michelob Light Classic in St. Louis and she lit up with the Kane smile that made her a popular champion at Fox run.
We reminisced on mic and her recall of the week was surprisingly vivid even to the point of knowing what Karrie Webb was doing on the course ahead of her in the final round. We talked for a few minutes after the formal conversation and she said she and others really missed St. Louis. She said the players loved the galleries and the way they were treated. She said she wished St. Louis was still an LPGA stop and wondered why it couldn’t be again.
I agreed but realized, like class reunions, you can’t really go back and recreate the past, but that doesn’t mean you can’t flashback in a visit. Keep that in mind for next year when the Legends are there for you again next August in French Lick.
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