Senior golf champ is making up for lost time
It's been a busy year for Portland golfer Lara Tennant.
Taking advantage of a flexible schedule and of entry exemptions, Tennant played in five 2021 U.S. Golf Association national tournaments. And played quite well.
In September, she won the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur Championship — for the third time in a row.
But that wasn't the only highlight for Tennant, 54. In July, at the U.S. Senior Women's Open where she tied for 29th (third best among 33 amateurs), she was paired for the first two rounds with Helen Alfredsson, the defending champion, and former Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster.
"It was exciting to play with them," Tennant said of the tournament at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Connecticut. "It was eye-opening to see the way they approach a big tournament like that."
She had a similar experience in 2019, paired with defending champion Laura Davies at that U.S. Senior Women's Open.
Tennant grew up in a golfing family. Her father, George Mack Sr., was one of the top amateur golfers in Oregon for years. Siblings George Jr. (teaching pro at Black Butte Ranch), Renee Baumgartner (now the athletic director at Santa Clara University) and Cappy all play the game. In 1980, Renee and Lara were instrumental in starting a girls golf team at Central Catholic High — and in winning a team state championship in 1983.
Tennant golfed at the University of Arizona, where she "saw that I wasn't quite good enough" to consider pro golf as a career. Before starting her family, she served as women's golf coach for the Oregon Ducks.
Competitive golf took a backseat as she and husband Bob raised five children: R.J., Michelle, Matthew and twins Caroline and Grace. She entered few tournaments. Golf was just a fun activity for the family as the kids grew.
About five years ago, with the twins in high school and her 50th birthday approaching, Tennant developed a renewed interest in competitive golf.
She didn't necessarily expect the kind of success she has achieved when she decided, with husband Bob's encouragement, to dive back into competitive golf. It helps that she enjoys golf more than ever.
"I have more of a passion for the game now than when I was younger," she said.
Preparing for tournament golf meant more than working on striking golf balls.
"You have to relearn how to compete," Tennant said.
As her success indicates, Tennant is at her best when the stakes are high. A strong stroke-play golfer, she seems to thrive in match play, where a consistent short game is imperative. Tennant points to staying relaxed, focusing shot by shot and "understanding what you're able to do and not able to do" for her success in match play.
Her match-play ability again showed up at the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur, played this September at The Lakewood Club in Point Clear, Alabama. After finishing first in stroke-play qualifying, Tennant defeated six opponents to run her streak in the tournament to 18 consecutive match wins.
Tennant is only the second qualifying medalist to win the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur in the match-play era, and just the 12th golfer to win a USGA championship event three or more times in a row.
She said that her match-play success reflects "a strong mental game" that is a result of experience.
Her passion for improvement and competitive spirit are reflected in the beautiful trophy that has rested in the Tennant home since she first won the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur back in 2018.
"It's quite a masterpiece," Tennant said
But, when she talks about how she has developed a true passion for the game that she lacked in her younger days, it's the people and the consistent work to improve she says have her excited.
"I am making up for lost time," she said. "It's been quite a privilege to play with so many great golfers and great people."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.