‘Surprise’ playoff gives Sherry Andonian-Smith her 6th berth in the 6 years of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open; also qualifying were fellow Coloradans Marilyn Hardy and Kris Franklin, along with Japan’s Yukako Matsumoto

By Gary Baines – 6/4/2024

AURORA — Tuesday’s qualifying tournament at CommonGround Golf Course for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open featured something of a who’s who of Colorado golf.

The 2022 national champion in the event, who’s won three different USGA championships — Jill McGill — was on hand, caddying for her sister, Shelley O’Keefe.

In all, four Colorado Golf Hall of Famers were either competing or caddying, with McGill joining players Janet Moore, Kim Eaton and Lauren Howe.

Also caddying was a member of the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame, Jim Hardy, who was caddying for his wife, Marilyn Hardy. 

And two longtime LPGA Tour players, Howe (who won once on Tour) and McGill, were part of the contingent.

But the bottom line for everyone involved was the same — qualify for one of the top events in women’s senior golf, or help a close one do so. And do it on a VERY windy day, when gusts often reached 25 mph.

From left, Marilyn Hardy, Kris Franklin and Yukako Matsumoto posted the lowest three scores in Tuesday’s qualifier.

To that end, making the grade on Tuesday were Coloradans Marilyn Hardy (an amateur who lives part-time in Gunnison), Kris Franklin (an amateur from Westminster) and Sherry Andonian-Smith (a PGA professional who resides part-time in Centennial), and Japanese teaching pro Yukako Matsumoto. 

Hardy, the CGA Women’s Senior Player of the Year in 2022 and ’23, earned medalist honors with a 5-over-par 77 in the windy conditions. Franklin, the CGA Women’s SPOY from 2018 through ’21, posted an 80, while Matsumoto managed an 82 and Andonian-Smith an 83. 

Andonian-Smith needed to prevail in a six-player-for-one-spot playoff to nab the final berth. On the third extra hole, her two-putt par from 7 feet was good enough to edge Eaton, who three-putted from long distance for bogey.

So all four will be headed to the sixth U.S. Senior Women’s Open, set for Aug. 1-4 at Fox Chapel Golf Club in Pittsburgh. Andonian-Smith will be going to the championship for the sixth time in six tries, while Hardy punched her ticket for the fourth time, and Franklin and Matsumoto for their third each. 

Despite excellent ball-striking on Tuesday, Franklin’s putter made her uneasy at CommonGround.

Andonian-Smith thought her string of advancing to every Senior Women’s Open had gone by the wayside when she shot 83.

“Today was a battle,” the teaching pro at Valley Country Club said. “I wasn’t hitting the ball very well. I was trying to miss the hosel most of the day (laugh). Driver, great. Woods, great. Irons, not so much.”

So the 61-year-old basically had one foot out the door before being stopped and informed she might be part of a playoff.

“It was a huge surprise,” Andonian-Smith said. “We were going to go have lunch. ‘Where do you want to go have lunch?’ Kate (Moore, the CGA’s managing director of rules and competitions) comes in and says, ‘You can’t go anywhere.’ ‘Why not?’ She says, ‘Because 83 is going to be in a playoff.’ I go, ‘What?’ I had no idea, and then my whole mindset started changing. I went from feeling sorry for myself to, ‘OK, I’ve got to do this now.’”

And do it Andonian-Smith did, despite being in the six-for-one situation. With CommonGround PGA director of golf Ben Pennymon — with whom Andonian-Smith worked for a time at Valley CC — caddying for her for the extra holes, three pars in the playoff did the trick. “The playoff is the best I hit the ball all day — by far. Not even close,” she said.

And the reward is trip No. 6 to the Senior Women’s Open. She’s made the cut at the championship the last three years, placing 25th in 2022.

“This tournament is the biggest tournament I have,” Andonian-Smith said of the national championship. “This is a U.S. Open; it’s always probably going to be the biggest.

“I’d sure like to be in the top 20 (this summer) so I don’t have to qualify again. I’d love to win. I don’t usually play in tournaments unless I think I can win. It would be tough to beat Annika (Sorenstam) and all those ladies, but I’m going to try. And a top 20 would be my goal.”

Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Jill McGill (left), the 2022 U.S. Senior Women’s Open champion, caddied for her sister, Shelley O’Keefe, on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, surviving the tough conditions the best on Tuesday was Hardy, who battled back after being 4 over par through four holes to go 1 over for her last 14.

“I got off to a really poor start,” said the 62-year-old, who splits her time between Gunnison and Magnolia, Texas. “Then I just started grinding to make pars because par was a good score. I ended up making (three) birdies (including one from 35 feet on No. 5). It was one of the toughest days. You just try to get it in the right spot” over and over again.

The reward is Hardy’s fourth trip to the Senior Women’s Open, where she’ll compete with the likes of Sorenstam and some other World Golf Hall of Famers.

“This is absolutely the biggest (national championship she plays),” said Hardy, a two-time winner of the CGA Women’s Senior Stroke Play. “It’s just fantastic to qualify again. It’s such a fun tournament. It’s a dream come true really. I never take anything for granted. It’ just a cherry on the top (of a sundae).”

The next goal for Hardy is trying to make the 36-hole cut at the Senior Women’s Open for the first time. “That’s the next step,” she said.

That’s likewise on the mind of Franklin, who previously competed in the Senior Women’s Open in 2019 and last year. She missed advancing to the weekend by two strokes five years and by a single shot in 2023.

“I left my stuff in the locker, thinking I would make it (last year),” Franklin said. “Then I missed it by one.

“So this will mean (another) chance to make the cut. I just want to make the cut in the Open. Out there (today), it was like ‘kick it away, kick it away, kick it away.’ I just didn’t think there was a chance.”

The flags stood at attention with Tuesday’s high winds.

Indeed, five or six three-putts and a score of 80 in this qualifier usually means not advancing. But with the fierce winds, 80 left Franklin in second place.  

“I was extremely happy with how I hit it,” she said. “I missed some shots out there, but I hit it really well. The putting — I started out just three-putt, three-putt, three-putt. It was like gift, gift, gift. It was just so disappointing. … It should have been much easier. I would have been excited if I putted as well as I practiced. 

“But I love this weather. It’s hard, but it’s kind of fun because you have to be creative. That part I like. But the putting was frustrating.”

After being a dominant force in Colorado women’s senior golf — she’s won five CGA women’s senior majors — Franklin played very little competitively on a statewide/national basis in 2022 and ’23. She elected to basically take off 2022 and planned to return last year, only to have some medical issues experienced by a sister of husband Brent lead to a different path. So her one big tournament in 2023 was the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.  

“It was the event I wanted to play so desperately,” she said. And now going back for a second straight year and competing in another USGA national championship is ever so special for the 58-year-old.

“It’s just fun to get to them. They’re neat,” Franklin said. “I didn’t realize just how special they are until they start fading away.”

As for Matsumoto, though she’s a teaching professional based in Japan, this is the third consecutive year she’s qualified for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open — and the second time in Colorado, having also done so in 2022 at Lake Valley Golf Club.

Matsumoto advanced despite shooting a 9-over-par 45 on the front nine on Tuesday. But she rebounded by playing her last four holes of the day in 1 under par.

“Today was very, very difficult because of the wind,” she said. 

U.S. Senior Women’s Open Qualifying

At Par-72 CommonGround GC in Aurora


a-Marilyn Hardy, Gunnison 77

a-Kris Franklin, Westminster 80

Yukako Matsumoto, Japan 82

Sherry Andonian-Smith, Centennial 83


a-Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Kim Eaton 83

Terra Shehee, Mead 83

a-indicates amateur

For all the scores from Tuesday’s qualifier, CLICK HERE.

About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for since 2009. The University of Colorado Evans Scholar alum was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates