50-year-old “rookie” triumphs at U.S. Senior Women’s Open
Sunday night’s Colorado Golf Hall of Fame Induction Dinner brought a crowd of 226 people, including 37 past inductees, to Columbine Country Club. None of them was Jill McGill.
Make no mistake, the 2009 inductee—a product of Cherry Creek High School and the University of Southern California—was the subject of numerous conversations, most of them containing some expression of amazement, followed by “I’m so happy for her.”
McGill missed the dinner because she was busy making history at NCR Country Club in Ohio, where she became the first American to win the U.S. Senior Women’s Open and only the third woman ever to win three different USGA events.
Entering the final round a shot behind leaders Laura Davies, Helen Alfredsson and Annika Sorenstam—coincidentally, the three Europeans who had previously won the USSWO—McGill shot an even-par 73 on NCR’s South Course while those ahead of her stumbled on a layout so challenging that no player in the field broke par.
McGill would have had the only red-number round, but she bogeyed the final two holes to finish a shot ahead of fellow 50-year-old USSWO rookie Leta Lindley. McGill didn’t even know she had the lead until Sorenstam, with whom she was paired, told her to mark her tap-in putt on the 72nd so she could savor the moment.
The 6-foot tall 50-year-old mother of two hadn’t had a moment like that since winning the 1994 U.S. Amateur Public Links one year after capturing the U.S. Women’s Amateur. None of the $2,341,941 she has earned since turning professional before the 1995 season came from a first-place check.
“It’s been a long time,” she said. “It’s been a really, really long time.”
She’d come close 20 years ago, when she was also paired with Sorenstam in the final group of the 2002 U.S. Women’s Open at Prairie Dunes. She carded a 78, however, and finished tied for 12th. This year, she played steadily throughout, making two clutch birdies on both the front and back nines.
“I knew at the turn I was a couple back, and from that point on, I really had no idea,” McGill said. “I knew that I was close when I made a couple of birdies . I was disappointed with that bogey on 17. I tried not to focus on it. All I could do was what I could do, and whatever everybody else was doing was what they were doing.”
McGill’s victory puts her in elite company. She joins World Golf Hall of Famers Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, JoAnne Carner and Carol Semple Thompson as the only players to win three different USGA championships. The triumph also earned her an exemption into next year’s U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica at Pebble Beach.
“I look forward to it,” the newly crowned champion said, responding to the news. “That place is heaven on earth.”
After Sunday’s round, heaven was in Kettering, Ohio, south of Dayton, where she found herself surrounded by her sister and caddie, Shelley O’Keefe, husband Patrick Byerly and their children, Bella,10, and Blaze, 6. Shelley, who has recently fought cancer, kept her sister loose during the round, and McGill said Bylery could bring the kids from Dallas if she was in the top 10 heading into the weekend.
“It’s not very often you get an opportunity to for your kids to see you do something like this,” she told Yahoo Sports, dismissing the idea that they would be a distraction. “Especially having them later in life, so that’s the number-one thing for me.”
For being the number one player on Sunday, McGill pocketed $180,000 and received a 10-year exemption into the USSWO. She also got the attention of a room 1,200 miles away.
When told this, she texted, “Just trying to represent Colorado!” followed by three smiley faces—one for each USGA event she’s won.
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