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Marlene Davis begins U.S. Senior Women's Open quest on Thursday

When Marlene Davis tees off Thursday morning on the No. 10 hole at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., she will be on familiar ground. Sort of.

Pine Needles is where the professional instructor at the Paddock Golf Dome earned the first and most important victory of her career in the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional National Championship in 1991.

Aside from enjoying the lush surroundings in North Carolina's golf country, Davis isn't counting on any carryover from that triumph for this week's U.S. Senior Women's Open.

"It's the same course. However, it's been completely redesigned since the last time I played it 28 years ago," Davis said after an 18-hole practice round on Monday. "They've reconstructed all the greens to make them even more diabolical."

Even though she had played Pine Needles before, her caddy made a reconnaissance tour of the course even before Davis arrived at Southern Pines. Nine practice holes on Tuesday and another 18 holes on Wednesday hopefully will produce the information on the layout she will need.

"You try to prepare the best you can," Davis said. "It's a matter getting from here to here."

This is only the second U.S. Senior Women's Open. Davis qualified in the inaugural event last year at the Chicago Golf Club. She finished tied for 74th, failing to make the cut after 36 holes. She shot 78-84-162. The cut was 158. This year, the top 50 scores plus ties will move on to the weekend rounds.

Davis made the field this time as an alternate after finishing fourth in the regional qualifier in April at Columbus Country Club in Ohio. She was added to the field on May 8 when the USGA informed her of an opening.

It will be a crack field at Pine Needles led by defending champion Dame Laura Davies of Great Britain, who in 2001 won the Wegmans Rochester International, one of her 20 LPGA Tour titles.

At 5 feet, 10 inches, Davies is a powerful women, known for her long drives. She is an example of the type of long hitter Davis will encounter in her quest to win the Senior Open.

Other very familiar names in the field include Joanne Carner, Laura Baugh, Jan Stephenson, Hollis Stacy, Amy Alcott, Liselotte Neumann and Juli Inkster, the runner-up last year.

"It's no excuse," Davis said of the challenge she faces against the big hitters. "I'm small, 5-3, 110 pounds and hit it about 225 yards off the tee. These girls hit it 10 t0 30 yards past me, but it comes down to the short game. It is almost 70 percent of the game. That's the great equalizer."

Davis realizes it will be important to stick to her plan and not panic. Last year she was 38th after the first 18 holes, but missed the cut because, she believes, she started to press on the second day.

"Don't try to get too many back at once," she says she will tell herself if faced with a similar situation.

Davis' goal this week is to make the cut. Anything better than that will be a bonus.

In her favor, she believes, is that she is in better shape than a year ago, when lower back discomfort bothered her. After a 10-week therapy program to improve her flexibility and strength, that pain is gone.

Davis, who is the LPGA Professional Instructor at Paddock Chevrolet Golf Dome/Brighton Driving Range/Golf Course, will tee off at 8:14 a.m. on Thursday in a threesome with Alice Miller and amateur Terrill Samuel of Canada.

On Friday, the same three will start from the No. 1 tee at 1:24 p.m.

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