Sandra Palmer is 75 now, her prime no longer visible in the rearview mirror. She lost sight of it too many mile markers — and milestones — ago.
More than five decades have passed since she turned pro, more than four decades since her most notable victory, more than three decades since her last win, two decades since she retired.
Yet here she is, in the midst of her golden years, assiduously attempting to resurrect fragments of her past prowess. “In my mind, I’m still there,” she said. “I try to remember me as I was.”
For this, the USGA should be commended.
The USGA finally added a U.S. Senior Women’s Open to its roster of national championships, and the inaugural will be played next week at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Ill. Palmer, a former U.S. Women’s Open champion, is one of three septuagenarians in the field, joining her old friend and former nemesis JoAnne Gunderson Carner, 79, and Jane Blalock, 72.
“It’s going to be just great, a lot of fun,” Palmer said on Wednesday, before heading out to practice. “They waited about 10 years too long, but better late than never for some of us.
“I’m mainly doing it because it’s history and I want to be a part of it.”
It’s that and more — the camaraderie and, of course, the competition. “I still miss it,” she said. “It’s in the bones. I’ve been working hard on my game because I want to enjoy hitting some good shots. As far as being competitive, I wouldn’t say that’s realistic. It’s hard to spot [the competition] 25 years. But it would be awesome to make the cut.”
The legendary teacher Harvey Penick called Palmer “one of my favorite students” in his bestseller, “Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book.” I asked her if she is consulting the book as a refresher.
“I do,” she said gleefully. “What would Harvey do? I carry it with me in my golf bag. One thing I read recently is that if you practice and trust what you’re doing why can’t you trust it when you go play?
“One of the things Harvey always talks about is the magic move, the transition in practicing. I used to know the pages, 82 or 92. It’s a slow-motion deal. The left heal and the right elbow start down together in one motion.”
Page 96, in fact. But she has forgotten none of the lesson. “Guess I better focus on the ‘magic move.’” she said.
Palmer has been preparing for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open for about six months. “The hard part is not having anything to play in. The emotional and mental is pretty important. The physical for me is a big challenge, too, because I’m not as flexible or strength-wise. I’ve been working out and trying to do the things that might be helpful.”
On Tuesday, she played a round at Shady Canyon Golf Club in Irvine, Calif., with Mike Roberts, the former chief operating officer of McDonald’s. Roberts also is a member at Chicago Golf Club, allowing her to tap into some local knowledge.
“I’m not cracking the mid-70s yet,” she said. “I have to have a hot putter and I’ve been working on that. The greens here probably are not as fast as they’ll be next week.”
She knows what not to do about it. On the eve of the U.S. Women’s Open one year, she phoned Penick and asked him whether she should switch to a heavier putter on faster greens.
“Well, Sandra,” he replied, “if the greens are that fast, you probably should hit your putts a little easier.”
Page 50, “Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book.”
Penick no doubt would have been thrilled that his pupil is still grinding. Good for her, and good for the USGA for giving her and others a reason to do so.