news 5 days ago

Eugene's Debby King joins LPGA royalty at U.S. Senior Women's Open

The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore. — Austin Meek The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.

July 11--For the past year, local golf pro Debby King has had a piece of paper attached to her office wall announcing the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open.

King printed off the announcement as soon as she saw it, then made sure her calendar was clear for a trip to Chicago on the second weekend of July 2018.

"I've been staring at that for a year now," King said. "I blocked off my calendar for a week. I was trying to prepare."

Whether you call that confidence or premonition, King's preparation paid off. She is one of 120 golfers who will compete in the 72-hole tournament beginning Thursday at Chicago Golf Club.

King, 58, said qualifying for Senior Women's Open ranks as one of the high points of her golf career, along with winning LPGA coach of the year in 1996 and LPGA golf pro of the year in 2015.

"This is probably the third biggest feather in my cap," she said.

For King, qualifying for the Senior Women's Open was a spiritual lift at the end of a difficult year. Her 10-year association with Laurelwood Golf Course ended recently when the city of Eugene, which owns the course, opted not to renew her contract as general manager and head pro.

Under King's management, Laurelwood shed its reputation as a troubled and ill-kept course and became an attractive destination for local players. King wasn't told why the city selected a different management group when the five-year contract came up for bid, but she speculated it was because the new managers could operate with smaller annual subsidies than the city provided under the previous deal.

"Laurelwood didn't have a single lake, so we had to use city water," she said. "It was nothing to have a $12,000 water bill each month in the summer. You had to have some kind of subsidy from the city in order to be able to make a living."

King recalled talking with a city employee who complimented her management of the course and told her not take the decision personally. Still, it was hard to think about starting over after she'd invested so much effort into Laurelwood after moving to Eugene more than a decade ago.

"January was a tough month," she said. "To lose my job, lose my salary -- it's the old saying, 'When God shuts one door, he opens another.'"

That next door opened at Emerald Valley in Creswell, where King is a part-time golf instructor under head pro Laine Wortman. Between that and Kingdom of Golf, the private golf school she runs with teaching partner Nancy Woodke, she's managed to stay busy and keep her teaching skills sharp.

Because her own golf game had taken a back seat, King wasn't sure what to expect when she traveled to Fairwood Country Club in Renton, Wash., for a Senior Open qualifier last month. With 17 golfers competing for three qualifying spots, King figured she would need a round of even par to advance.

"I was just playing so-so going into it," she said. "I really didn't have all that much confidence until about the day before. All of a sudden things started clicking, so it was very good timing for me."

With the course playing more difficult than expected, King finished at 3-over par and won medalist honors. That secured her place in the inaugural Women's Senior Open, an event that women's golf advocates say is long overdue.

Some big names from the LPGA Tour will be competing, including past U.S. Open champions Juli Inkster, Laura Davies and Patty Sheehan. King, who played a handful of LPGA Tour events during her professional career, said the nature of a U.S. Open means anyone can win, though the field clearly tilts toward the most accomplished players.

"These are all legends of the LPGA with much more experience than me," King said. "You have to be realistic, but you never know whose day it's going to be."

King said the Senior Open might inspire her to pursue more competitive opportunities -- including the LPGA Legends Tour, though the qualifying process requires a heavy time commitment. For now she's focused on the event that's been circled on her calendar for months, and one that seems well-suited for her game.

Chicago Golf Club, the oldest 18-hole course in the U.S., is located about 30 miles west of Lake Michigan, meaning golfers are advised to expect gusty winds.

"Everybody says, 'Get your wind game on,'" King said. "I'm usually pretty good in wind because I'm only 5 feet tall. I can keep the ball under the wind, they say.

"I've always played well in wind, so I was glad to hear that."

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