MANISTIQUE - The future has arrived for the Upper Peninsula Ladies Golf Association.
The 86th annual tournament comes to challenging Indian Lake Golf and Country Club in Manistique next week with a different look. A competitive field of just 68 players is on hand, and the race for top honors is wide open for one of the few times over the past decades.
Michigan State University golfer and defending champion Carley Saint-Onge of Marquette is unable to play because of other golf commitments and Syd Wells of Menominee, the runner-up last year and an 11-time champion, is standing by her year-old decision to focus on more USGA senior events.
While Saint-Onge, who became the second youngest champion behind 17-year-old Christine Walchuk in 1996, will not be on hand, two of her former prep challengers will be among several potential title contenders.
Avery Rochester of Ishpeming Wawonowin and Zoe Woodworth of Calumet Golf Club finished one-two at the Upper Peninsula Division 1 high school championship June 1. Rochester will be a Marquette High School junior while Woodworth will play at Colorado Mesa University, a Division II school in Grand Junction. Woodworth's father was a doctor in Manistique many years ago.
While they lack match-play experience that is followed over the final three days once Monday's qualifying round concludes, both are capable of going low on the scoreboard and long on the fairway.
Polly Anderson, an Escanaba native playing out of Ironwood Gogebic Country Club, and Nancy Osier of Gogebic are the top returnees from last year's field. Anderson fell to Saint-Onge in the semifinals while Osier bowed to Wells.
Sue Micklow of Marquette Golf Club, who beat Saint-Onge for the Marquette club title last year and won the 1979 UPLGA title, is another prime contender.
Other contenders could be Joann Poncino and Pam Frankini of Iron Mountain Pine Grove and Pam Caron and former UPLGA senior champion Karen McCorkle of Gladstone Golf Club.
Anderson has the lowest handicap in the field with seven and is the only entrant in single digits. However, she has not played a lot of golf because of obligations with her children's activities. "It's hockey, soccer or the baseball field every night of the week. It is just insance," she said with a laugh. "I don't know how my parents did it with six kids."
She always takes vacation in July and playing at Indian Lake this year is like a no-brainer, she said. "Going into it I want to say I have a chance, but really, it is four days of golf with friends. I'm perfectly fine with that."
She last played Indian Lake two years ago in a couples scramble, which is the style that would suit what she now calls an "erratic" game.
Anderson has been in the title hunt several times and relishes another shot, but added "it's not something I'm worried about. It would be nice, but golf is such a minor part of my life right now."
Osier, a two-time UPLGA Senior champion, said match-play experience could be a factor as the tourney progresses and the veterans can use their guile and gamesmanship.
"You're playing the course and you tell yourself that, but deep down you're watching what they (the opponent) are doing," she said. "There are a lot of different thought processes and strategies, do I give (a putt) or not give."
Osier has been a frequent contender but usually ran into Wells, but now that Wells is gone she admits age could become a factor. "You get older each year and your distance is less and less," she said, noting Indian Lakes is a long course ((5,426 yards) with thick rough and glassy greens. "The younger girls hit it so much farther.
"My first goal is making championship flight, second I want to try getting as high as I can," she said. "Polly, through her experience, I would say is the favorite. Sue Micklow is a good strong contender. I don't know the young girls, but they have never played in this kind of tournament. It could be anybody's tournament."
Rochester, the only high school entrant, must make the championship flight to play the final three days. She was at a gymnastics camp at Michigan State University this week and also plays soccer in Marquette.
"I hope to make championship flight," said Rochester, whose only match-play experience was in the women's club tournament last year when she finished fourth. "It is easier if you have a blow-up hole because you're just one hole down. You can get it back. If you're a steady golfer and get pars and bogies, it might not help out much."
Rochester and Woodworth played in the recent Michigan Junior Amateur, with Rochester tying for 26th after shooting 86-81. Woodworth shot 86-87.
Rochester, who last played golf in Wolverine last Saturday, played Indian Lake in June. "It is good for my game," she said. "I'm excited to play but I'm also nervous because the ladies are older than me and I don't know how good they are."
Despite that, Rochester said "I would say my chances are pretty good, I guess, but I don't want to sound cocky or anything. I just want to see where I stack up against the ladies in the U.P. and do my best."
She said succeeding four-time champion Saint-Onge and edging Woodworth 82-85 at the U.P prep finals "boosted my confidence a lot."
Woodworth, disappointed with her putter at the U.P. Finals but happy with her improvement, has match-play experience after winning the Calumet women's club title last year.
"You have to play your game," she said. "If they make a good putt, you know you have to make the putt. If they go for it (the green), they are challenging you. You have to play with the player more than the course."
She will get her first view of the course Sunday. "I'll try to figure out spots I definitely do not want to be in," she said. Looking at qualifying, she plans "to play safe and make sure I can get as low as possible and avoid really bad mistakes.
"This is a nice opportunity and a nice challenge. I'm not really that nervous, but when I get there I will be nervous."