For Lara Tennant, love of golf even stronger the second time around
For the longest time, Lara Tennant figured her calling was as a wife and mother. Golf? Something to enjoy, but nothing to get serious about.
But look at Tennant now — the two-time defending champion of the U.S. Women's Senior Amateur, and the British Women's Senior Amateur titlist to boot.
"It's overwhelming in a way," she said, sipping coffee at a Starbucks on a recent morning. "It hasn't fully quite sunk in, but it feels really good."
Tenant's comments came after she won her second straight U.S. Women's Senior Am title in late August, beating Australian Sue Wooster of Australia 3-2 at Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Country Club. Tennant became the ninth woman to successfully defend her title in the 58-year history of the tournament. The Central Catholic High grad and Portland resident had beaten Wooster by the same score in the previous year's final in Vero Beach, Florida.
Three weeks after Cedar Rapids, Tennant became the undisputed queen of senior women's amateur golf, earning the Royal & Ancient British Senior Am crown at Royal St. David's in Harlech, Wales. Tennant, 52, ruled a three-woman playoff on the third hole to lay claim to her third "major" in an 11-month period. She had finished the three-day stroke-play tournament in 3-under-par 222.
"It's hard for me to put into words how I feel about all this," Tennant said after returning home after her first tournament abroad since a trip to Scotland while playing for the University of Arizona more than 30 years ago. "I didn't expect (to win in Wales). I went there with the thought of just enjoying the experience.
"But I played well enough to win, and that's very exciting. It's quite amazing, really."
This is all new to Tennant, the wife of surgeon Bob Tennant and mother of five children. A solid if unspectacular player at Central Catholic and Arizona, she didn't have time to dedicate herself to her golf game once the kids started coming. Tennant was never a state high school champion and has never won the open division at the Oregon Amateur, though she was runner-up four times.
"That was a tournament I really wanted to win, but during those years I was raising my five kids," she said. "I'd practice a week or two before the tournament. I felt I did exceptionally well just getting to the finals against mainly college kids. But I was never prepared enough to beat the best player there."
Everything changed when the youngest of her brood — twin sisters Grace and Caroline — entered high school at Jesuit in 2015. By that time, Lara was nearing the age of 50, when she would eligible to play in senior events. Suddenly, she had more time on her hands, and a plan in mind.
Tennant chose to have rotator cuff surgeries on each shoulder, at 46 and 48, "in preparation for turning 50," she said. "One I had to do; the other I would have had to do eventually. It was extraordinary that I had the same tears in both shoulders, and they're tough recoveries. But I did that so that I would be healthy when I turned 50."
When she was 48, she received a call from management at her home golf club, Waverley Country Club, telling her they wanted to play host to the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur when she turned 50.
"That was motivating," she said.
At 49, Tennant began playing some national events, "because I wanted to be prepared for what senior golf would bring me," she said.
"What I didn't expect was that I started to love to practice when I finally had the time available," she said. "I developed a passion for the game that I never had before. I started loving the game more than I ever did. And I started meeting some delightful ladies who were very competitive but fun to be around. I've made a lot of great friends. It's opened up a whole new world."
Waverley got the bid for 2017 after Tennant turned 50. She was co-medalist but lost in the first round of match play.
"It was disappointing," she said, "but in some ways, it taught me a lot."
The next year, she won her first U.S. Senior Women's Am title at Vero Beach. In August, she repeated at Cedar Rapids. Both times, her caddy was her father, George Mack, for many years one of the top amateur golfers in Oregon. Mack turns 80 on Dec. 25.
"It's so much fun," Tennant said. "He's calm. He's very smart. He helps me with my club selection. It's a second opinion that I have so much confidence in.
"Also, how cool is it to have your dad on your bag? All the ladies adore him. They're just so happy that he's out there. They understand the meaning of having a parent caddy. Most of them would love to be able to do it."
Tennant is an excellent golfer in medal play, but she seems to raise her level a notch in head-to-head match play, in which she is 11-0 the past two years of U.S. Women's Senior Am play.
"My dad is a fantastic match-play player," she said. "He's always had a great short game. One of my strengths is my short game. If you have that in match play, you know you're never out of it. It can affect your opponent if you're getting up and down from places they don't expect you to.
"You always have that in your back pocket. I learned that from my dad. You never give up. On the flip side, I'm pretty good at expecting my opponent to do the unexpected. You're never surprised if they chip in or make a 40-foot putt."
There is one more component to Tennant's makeup in match play.
"The key is that you're not playing your opponent — you're playing the golf course," she said. "On some holes, you integrate what your opponent is doing. But for the most part, the more you can not think about your opponent the better. I've played enough match play that I understand that concept. I'm able to compartmentalize everything and focus on my own game."
Golf was a family affair in the Mack household. All five of George's kids — including George Mack Jr., now teaching pro at Black Butte Ranch, and Renee Baumgartner, athletic director at Santa Clara — played college golf. Each of the siblings also caddied for their dad at some point in amateur tournaments.
The only one who doesn't play is Lara's mother, Jan.
"But she's watched more golf than anyone in Oregon," Lara said. "She's always been the best cheerleader. She's a very proud mom."
Tennant's five children all played high school golf.
"We never pushed them to play college golf or to take it to any level except for what they wanted," she said. "We're just happy that we can all go play golf together."
That includes Lara's beau of 26 years — a six-handicapper who plays out of Waverley.
"My husband loves golf more than I could ever imagine doing," she said. "He's the one who kept me in the game, encouraged me to continue competing. He was the driving force. Otherwise, I may have not played much golf in my life."
In 2018, Tennant qualified for the U.S. Senior Women's Open, featuring the top pros in the world, at Chicago Golf Club. She got the first hole-in-one in tournament history — the second of her career — but failed to make the cut. She got automatic entry into the 2019 U.S. Senior Women's Open and again missed the cut, but — as reigning U.S. Senior Women's Am champion — was paired with Hall-of-Famer Laura Davies, the defending champion. Tennant will again be paired with the defending champ when she participates in the 2020 U.S. Senior Women's Open at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Tennant will also defend her U.S. Women's Senior Am crown in Point Clear, Alabama, next year. And now she'll be heading back across the pond to defend her British Senior Women's Am title at Ashridge Golf Club in Little Gaddensden, England, next August. Perhaps she'll bring some family members along, which she was unable to do in Wales.
"The best aspect of all of this has been my family," she said. "I usually don't go to tournaments unless I have a family member caddying for me, whether it's my dad, my husband or my brother.
"It's not really about me trying to go and win a tournament. It's about experiencing all these fantastic events that I get to be part of with everybody."
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