When Aspen’s Dede Cusimano tees off Thursday in the first round of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, it will be the culmination of a few small miracles.
For one, this tournament didn’t exist two years ago, so it wasn’t an option for older professionals like Cusimano. Also, two years ago Cusimano couldn’t have guaranteed she would have been here to stand on that tee box, let alone any.
“I really wanted to play well again and I didn’t know if my body could ever handle it,” the 59-year-old Cusimano said of her battle with breast cancer two summers ago. “Once I got the doctor saying, ‘You’re OK now, nothing is wrong, you’re fine,’ it kind of re-motivated me to get my game in shape and this is what I wanted. I wanted to get through this qualifier to make it to the Open.”
Cusimano, who is the director of instruction at the Dede Cusimano Golf Academy at the Aspen Golf Club and previously worked at the Roaring Fork Golf Club, not only survived her battle with breast cancer but survived a recent qualifying tournament in California to earn a spot in this week’s Senior Open, being held at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina.
She has played in seven women’s majors over her professional playing career, but this will be her first senior-level event. In fact, last year’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club was the first inaugural open tournament for seniors — players need to be at least 50 to compete — a long overdue moment for women’s golf, according to Cusimano.
“It’s taken a lot of years, but they recognized it. I guess last year it was very, very successful and the USGA has really done a nice job with us,” Cusimano said. “It’s very important in my industry that you keep your game up because one thing that students love to see is their coach playing in tournaments.”
Cusimano is a nationally recognized teaching professional who had a very successful playing career, which included her competing in five LGPA Championships and two U.S. Women’s Opens. Her last major came in 2014.
She nearly qualified for the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open last year in Chicago, but lost in a playoff during qualifying and was left “devastated” and on the outside looking in. From this to her battle with cancer, she had plenty of fuel to make another run this summer.
Cusimano earned her spot at the senior open by shooting an even-par 72 on April 23 at Tamarisk Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, finishing second in the qualifier.
“It was my goal this year to do everything I can to go into that qualifier and play as well as I can,” Cusimano said. “I had to keep the ball below the hole all day long. You couldn’t be above the pin, because if you are you would three or four putt. I just kept it below the hole and hit it really well that day.”
Cusimano will tee off from the 10th hole at 1:24 p.m. E.T. on Thursday alongside amateur Kim Keyer-Scott, of Florida, and LPGA Tour veteran Pamela Kerrigan-Johnson, who currently is the ladies’ clinic instructor at Black Rock Country Club in Massachusetts.
This year’s field includes last year’s senior open champion Laura Davies, considered England’s most accomplished female golfer who has four LGPA major wins to her name, and last year’s runner-up Juli Inkster of California, a seven-time winner in majors.
“I’m not going to put pressure on myself. You can’t going into a major like this, because you are going to be playing with some of the best players in the world in the seniors,” Cusimano said. “I’m just going to go out and play my own game. Not get real cute. Just try to hit everything to the middle of the green and hope my putter is going to roll a few of them in.”
The tournament concludes Sunday, with the final two rounds being televised by FS1.