It wasn’t quite the crowd one would expect for professional golf, but the dozens of members and guests lined up around the 18th green of Moss Creek’s Devil’s Elbow South course Friday afternoon made it abundantly clear they were thrilled to see pro golfers on their home course — and after a year and a half without any real competition, 16 players from the LPGA Legends Tour were just as happy to be seen.
Cathy Johnston-Forbes fired a 1-under-par 71 to edge Leta Lindley by one shot and claim the $6,000 winner’s share of the $24,050 purse up for grabs in the impromptu one-day tournament organized by former LPGA star and Moss Creek resident Rosie Jones, who tied for third with a 1-over 73.
It was the first competitive action for the players on the LPGA’s senior tour since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and their first step in preparation for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open and Senior LPGA Championship later this summer.
And after such a long layoff, it felt good — and a little strange — to finally play for a crowd, even a small one by pro golf standards.
“It’s very nice to be back out here competing, and to get a win is just the cherry on top,” Johnston-Forbes said. “It’s been about a year and a half since we’ve hit shots in front of anybody. I was nervous on the first tee. I wasn’t as nervous coming in on 18 as I thought I would be, probably because I was hitting it well, but it was exciting.”
Johnston-Forbes hadn’t played at Moss Creek since the LPGA Tour ended its annual stop there in the mid-1980s, but she had a unique reintroduction to the course when she played a practice round with her brother, Clyde Johnston, a Hilton Head-based golf course architect who oversaw a renovation of the George Fazio track in 2012.
“He did help me out, because I hadn’t played here since 1984 and I didn’t remember a lot,” Johnston-Forbes said. “I think my name this week was actually ‘Clyde’s sister.’”
South Carolina’s own Clarissa Childs, the executive director of the Women’s South Carolina Golf Association and former women’s golf coach at Newberry College, got out to an early lead with two birdies in the first three holes and cruised through 14 holes with the lead before running into trouble at the par-3 15th — Devil’s Elbow South’s signature hole — when her tee shot found the marsh, leading to a triple-bogey 6.
At the same time, Johnston-Forbes and playing partner Lindley started surging. Lindley birdied the par-4 9th and the par-5 11th to jump into the lead at 3-under, while Johnston-Forbes matched her birdie at the 11th and followed it up with another at the par-4 12th to join her atop the leaderboard. Lindley opened the door at the 15th, failing to get up and down from just off the front of the green to drop a shot, and both players battled a moderate breeze on the track’s challenging string of finishing holes.
Forbes gave the shot right back at No. 16 with a three-putt bogey, but Lindley returned the favor a hole later and pulled her tee shot left into the hazard at the 18th, allowing Johnston-Forbes to play the final hole conservatively and clinch the win with a bogey.
Jones made things interesting for her neighbors, though. Playing in the final group, the 13-time LPGA Tour winner and seven-time Solheim Cup participant ran in a long birdie putt at No. 16 to get within two shots of the lead, and she barely missed another at the par-3 17th before making a two-putt par at the last after being warmly welcomed by the dozens of fans gathered around the green.
“It was fantastic,” Jones said. “Our players were so excited to be here and to get some competition in. I think I was hyperventilating the first couple of holes, because I was pretty nervous just getting that adrenaline that I haven’t really had in a while.”