By Mark Hayes, Golf Australia.
Jane Crafter took a spectacularly successful walk down memory lane, storming to a share of fourth at the US Senior Women’s Open.
The South Australian finished a remarkable week in style with four birdies en route to a one-under-par 70 that left her alongside Michele Redman at five over, only four strokes behind Swedish champion Helen Alfredsson.
Crafter, 63, is at best a part-time player on the senior circuit these days, so was pleasantly shocked to have seen off so many legends of the women’s game in their biggest event of the season.
“If you’d told me I’d have beaten LD (defending champ Laura Davies, T9 at eight over) at the start of the week, I’d have said, `Yeah, right!’,” beamed Crafter, back near one of her long-time homes at Pine Needles Golf Club in North Carolina.
“It’s just amazing, really. I think week in and week out, women like Laura and Juli Inkster would beat your butt out here, but I played really nice golf for most of the week and at a place that’s really special to me … so I’m delighted.”
For much of her time on the LPGA Tour, the 1997 Women’s Australian Open champion played representing Pine Needles as her chief sponsor and home base. The club was also home to and still owned by the family of soon-to-be World Golf Hall of Fame inductee Peggy Kirk Bell, for whom the Australian has utmost respect.
“It’s a very special place to me, I spent 12 years here when I came over (to the United States) and the family really took me in. Peggy was just such an inspiration and a mentor to me and to do this at Pine Needles just makes it even more special.”
Crafter, who has won six professional events through her career, including on the LPGA Tour, is perhaps better known to the new generation as a commentator and analyst on both American and Australian television.
“I commentated on a couple of US (Women’s) Opens at Pine Needles, but never thought I’d get to play here competitively again.
“And to be honest, I didn’t think I could do this (to this level) again anywhere at all,” she said.
“I had an injection (for osteo-arthritis) in my knee in November and barely played bar a bit of short game stuff until early March.
“But I had some spare time for the past month and felt good and played nearly every day and it paid off a little bit. I feel like I’m hitting the ball pretty well and even though I can’t keep up with some of the younger girls, I feel like I putted OK and obviously know the course pretty well.”
Crafter will pocket almost $US44,000 for her efforts, but banked so much more mentally.
“It’s nice to make a nice cheque, obviously, but it’s not about that for me,” she said.
“It’s all about the satisfaction of playing well when you need to and … still being able to compete with the younger women who are playing a lot more than I do.
“I came here this week and my first goal was to make the cut; once I did that the second was to make the top 16 or 20 that qualify for next year’s event again.
“So it’s all pretty special, really.
“Once I got into it, it was all a matter of staying in my own little bubble and not getting caught up in anything else going on.
“My father (long-time coach and commentator Brian) used to say to me, `Open the door to a phone booth, get into it and hit your shot, then come back out again’. It’s the US Open, you’re going to make mistakes, but that advice really helped me and I probably hit 90 per cent of shots how I’d hoped when I got into the booth, so that makes me happy, too.”
There was more good news for Australia at Pine Needles with Wendy Doolan picking up $US21,500 for her outright 11th position.
Doolan, recently 50 and in her first major event on the senior circuit, was stellar after an opening 81 and finished just two strokes behind Davies after a closing 74.
The two other Aussies in the field, Jan Stephenson and amateur Sue Wooster, missed the halfway cut, the same fate that befell Gold Coast-based Canadian Nancy Harvey.
Photo at top: Jane Crafter during the US Senior Women’s Open. (Photo: USGA / Chris Keane)