FAIRFIELD, Conn. – When JoAnne Carner went to register for the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open, she ran across a small problem. She scrolled to “April,” then scrolled to “4” and then, well, the year category stopped at 1946. Carner, 82, was born 1939.
“I’m sitting there thinking about it,” she said, “and they didn’t figure anybody over 75 was going to be playing.”
Carner struck the first tee shot in 2018 at the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open and remarkably shot her age, 79, at Chicago Golf Club. She’s back for a third time at Brooklawn Country Club, this time with the aid of a golf cart.
Her COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), an inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs, makes it too difficult to walk hills. She also had surgery on her right hip on Christmas Eve in 2019.
The USGA’s policy allows players or caddies who submit the necessary documentation to use a cart. In this case, a spokesperson said, Carner provided medical documentation that shows a disability under the ADA that prohibits the ability to walk long distances or stand for long periods of time.
After taking 14 months away from the game during the COVID-19 pandemic, Carner returned to golf two months ago to get prepared for Brooklawn. She played five times per week at her home club, Pine Tree in Boynton Beach, and lost 24 of the 26 pounds she’d gained while hunkered down away from the virus.
“Basically, it was golf 101,” said Carner. “I mean, it was awful. I had no strength. The arms, the legs, the brain was dead. Everything was starting all over again.”
Joanne Carner plays her shot at the ninth hole during a practice round at the 2021 U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Conn. on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Darren Carroll/USGA)
She began walking on flat ground again, working up to 1 mile. The winner of eight USGA championships and 43 LPGA titles wasn’t about to miss this week, even if her famed distance has substantially faded. That, to her, is the most frustrating part.
“I don’t even know if I hit it 200,” said the player known as “Big Mama.”
The swing has always been short, she said, but this time around it came back even shorter. She returned to a familiar flaw of “ducking in” and never getting off the right foot: “In fact, I said, when they bury me, my right foot is going to be outside the coffin.”
During the long break from golf, Carner said it was the camaraderie that she missed the most, the heckling and side bets.
“I play harder for a drink,” she quipped.
With the COVID-19 pandemic canceling this championship in 2020, Carner was asked if there was a player she’d seen this week that she had particularly missed.
“Well, not really,” she said. “I mean, all of them. When you’re away from it for 14 months and whatnot, you say, now who is that?”
When asked about her expectations for the week, Carner said the cardinal rule is to make the cut. Her game, she continued, is not quite solid enough to really contend. The field of 120 players will be cut to 50 and ties after 36 holes.
There was a rumor going around Brooklawn that Carner had quit smoking, but she quickly cleared that up.
“I’m the only player with a golf cart,” she said, “and the only player who smokes.”
Joanne Carner signing flags on her arrival during the a practice round at the 2021 U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Conn. on Monday, July 26, 2021. (Darren Carroll/USGA)
Carner tees off at 8:47 EDT on Thursday alongside Carol Semple Thompson, who at 72 is the third-oldest player in the field, and Ellen Port. Together they have 22 USGA titles between them. Carner holds the record for any woman with eight USGA titles while both Port and Thompson boast seven.
Carner makes her 47th appearance in a USGA event this week, giving her a staggering winning percentage of 17 percent.
The second-oldest player in the field is 78-year-old Jerilyn Britz, who won the USWO when it was held at Brooklawn in 1979.
Laura Davies, 57, won the inaugural USSWO in Chicago by 10 strokes but will forever share the spotlight from that event with Carner.
Will Davies follow in Carner’s footsteps, competing into her 80s?
“Oh, absolutely, yeah, I can’t wait,” she said. “Me and JoAnne, she’ll be 100. I’ll be about 80-odd. It’ll be great, though. I can’t wait for that match.”