Meet the 39-year-old mini-tour player who qualified for her first U.S. Women’s Open in 15 years

Jean Reynolds turns 40 in September and recently qualified for her third U.S. Women’s Open. The last time Reynolds qualified for a Women’s Open was 2009 at Saucon Valley, back when she was the top player on what’s now the Epson Tour. The 5-foot-2 Reynolds garnered plenty of attention back then when she played her way into contention.

“I really didn’t know if this would happen again,” said Reynolds, who currently holds no tour status of any kind.

Reynolds never has been a cookie-cutter player. After a strong junior career, she was recruited to play golf at the University of Georgia but quit the team after she arrived in Athens, opting for a more conventional college lifestyle. She joined a sorority, studied abroad in Austria, and quit playing competitive golf.

And then, after she graduated with a degree in Child & Family Development in December of 2007, the well-rounded Reynolds was back inside the ropes, refreshed and ready to grind.

She won twice on the developmental tour in 2009 and ultimately tied for 17th at Saucon Valley. She’d never guess that it’d take 15 years to get back to a Women’s Open.

Jean Reynolds at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open.

Last week, Reynolds flew to Virginia for the Belle Haven Country Club qualifier in Alexandria. She birdied the last two holes of a 36-hole qualifier, draining a 25-foot putt on the 17th, to close with a 69 and co-medal with China’s Ruixin Liu at 5 under. Only two players from the qualifier advanced to the championship, held May 30-June 2 at Lancaster Country Club.

“There’s a lot of validation for me,” said Reynolds. “All the sacrifices, it was worth it. What I believed in myself and my game was true. I still can play, and I still can play with some of the tops. I’m not crazy!”

In the midst of Reynolds’ rookie season on the LPGA in 2010, a lean year for the tour, a shoulder injury popped up from seemingly out of nowhere after the British Open. She’d already played too many events, however, to qualify for a medical exemption.

In 2012, Reynolds underwent shoulder surgery and took 18 months to rehab. Because she didn’t play four years consecutively on the LPGA, she didn’t qualify for Class A status. Faced with the decision to use that degree and start at rock bottom with a real-world job, or start at rock bottom again in the pro ranks, Reynolds opted to stick with the job she loves.

It was back to the Epson Tour, where she continued the grind.

When an EF-4 tornado struck Reynolds’ beloved hometown of Newnan, Georgia, in 2021, she went back to help with the cleanup efforts and wound up with tears in her rotator cuff. It took six Platelet-Rich Plasma injections in each shoulder to keep her competitive days alive.

Reynolds still lives at home with her parents and jokingly calls them her “roomies.” The real MVP of the family, she says, is Chubb, the yellow lab named after former Georgia running back Nick Chubb.

“They allow me to do what I love to do,” said Reynolds, “and they’ve believed in me the whole time.”

Jean Reynolds poses with her beloved dog Chubb. (courtesy photo)

Last summer, Reynolds missed the cut at Stage I of LPGA Q-School, which meant she left the California desert without any Epson Tour status. She called it a sucker punch but tried to see the silver lining.

“I’ve always kind of done things a little bit different anyways,” she said.

Over the winter, Reynolds played on the NXXT mini tour, winning the NXXT Women’s Championship at Rio Pinar in Orlando.

In the lead-up to the Women’s Open, she’ll play on the Annika Women’s All Pro Tour in Texas and, hopefully, the Monday qualifier for the Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National Golf Course in New Jersey. As a non-member professional, Reynolds will be toward the end of the line when it comes to landing a spot in the qualifying field.

With so few players 40 and over competing on the LPGA these days, Reynolds will be one of the oldest in the field at Lancaster. Reynolds says she’s in better shape now at 39 than she was at 29. She hits it about 260 yards off the tee, 10 yards farther than she did 15 years ago at her last Women’s Open appearance.

Given all that she’s been through since 2009, there’s no doubt she heads to Lancaster more grateful than ever.

“There’s an inner belief that you just have to deep down know that hard work will pay off,” she said. “You hope sooner than later.

“You have to believe it.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek