Portland’s Lara Tennant is a force on the senior golf scene

Updated: January 3, 2020

By Steve Eubanks, Global Golf Post

Love, like a ripening harvest, comes in different colors and at different times. Early infatuation is almost always too restless, while the discipline to harness passion’s gallop requires time, encouragement and the examples of life.

Lara Tennant liked the game. She didn’t love it. Growing up in Portland, Ore., as Lara Mack, she was part of an entire family played golf. This was in the late ’70s early ’80s when most Americans had one television with four channels and one phone connected to the wall by a cord. People ate dinner at home, together, and families engaged in unstructured activities like playing a few holes of golf at a local course. George Mack, Lara’s father, saw to it.

“I have four siblings and we all played collegiate golf,” Tennant said. “I played at the University of Arizona. But in my childhood I wouldn’t say golf was my favorite sport. My family did it, so my siblings dragged me to the golf course. Of course, once you get a little better at something you start to enjoy it more. I give (my family) a lot of credit in my early years for keeping me in it.”

At Central Catholic High School in 1980, Tennant, a freshman, and her older sister Renee went to the athletic director and asked the school to form a girls’ golf team. The request was denied. Central Catholic had girls’ volleyball and basketball, and budgets were tight. But the Mack girls persisted.                   

They convinced an English teacher to be the coach and recruited three other girls to field a full team. Three years later, the Central Catholic Rams won the Oregon girls’ golf state championship.

Tennant went to Arizona, where she enjoyed the game but never competed at the level of many of her teammates. A solid third, fourth or sometimes fifth player for the Wildcats, Tennant was sharp enough to see that others had a drive, as well as a level of speed and talent, that she lacked. She always made the travel squad and went to the NCAA Championships in her junior and senior years, and that seemed to be enough.

“I never thought about turning pro,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t good enough to be as good as I would want to be out there. And I knew I wanted to pursue other things.”

After college, she worked as the women’s golf coach at the University of Oregon. But then she met her husband, Bob Tennant, an orthopedic surgeon, on a blind date set up by a mutual golf buddy. They settled down to raise a family in Portland. Six kids in five years later (including one set of twins), golf became a hobby with a week or two of competition thrown in annually. Once again it was family that pushed her to keep after it. Bob was a serious player. Even though Lara sometimes would take eight months off (once going almost two years away as she had two rotator-cuff surgeries), Bob encouraged her to compete.

“I played in some mid-ams and played in two U.S. (Women’s) Amateurs when they were in my region – 2000 (at Waverley Country Club, the Tennants’ home club) and 2006 (at Pumpkin Ridge). And I played state association events if they were convenient,” Tennant said. “But I was never quite able to prepare. I’d practice for a week and then go play. I enjoyed being out there again but I wasn’t able to advance very far because I simply didn’t prepare the way I should.”

Then the ripening occurred. As the children aged and became more self-sufficient, as they competed on high school golf teams and memories of Central Catholic flooded back; as her father grew older and Tennant saw the joy of the game through generations, something began to stir.

“As my kids got older I set my sights on senior golf,” she said. “Waverley Country Club called when I was in my late 40s and asked when I was turning 50 because they wanted to host the U.S. Senior (Women’s Amateur). And they did the first year I was eligible to play (2017), which really propelled me to start practicing and competing more.”

She was co-medalist in her first U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur but lost her first match on the 18th hole. Her entire family was there and they hurt for her. 

“But I saw this an opportunity to show my kids how to be a gracious loser, to understand that sometimes things in life don’t work out even though you’ve worked hard and given it your all,” Tennant said. “Outcomes are not guaranteed. That was an important lesson for them.”

But Tennant had a lesson of her own to learn. With her youngest kids, the twins, driving and making young-adult decisions, she had time to dedicate herself to the game. And she found something. She discovered the passion for golf that she had seen in others when she was in college, the love of the work and the devotion to the process.

“I played with and against so many All-Americans,” she said of her younger days. “I didn’t, back then, have the passion for the game that they had. But once I was able to practice more in preparation for senior golf, it reignited my passion for the game. I understand now what so many of my peers felt in college.

“I love golf now. I love practicing and competing and I love the people I’m meeting. That spills over into playing well. I’m really appreciative that I’ve renewed my passion in golf.”

A life lived passionately yields success. Tennant won the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur in her second outing in 2018 at Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club in Vero Beach, Fla. Then, in 2019, she successfully defended her title, defeating Sue Wooster for the second consecutive year in the final at Cedar Rapids Country Club in Iowa.

A few weeks later, Tennant won the British Women’s Senior Amateur on the third hole of a three-way playoff at Royal St. David’s in Wales.

“Our babies, the twins, are off to college,” she said. “I dropped the first off in Boston and then flew to Cedar Rapids and won the U.S. Senior Am. Then I came home, practiced a week, dropped the second one off at college in California and flew directly to Wales to win the British. So my life is very full and very busy with my kids and my husband.

“They keep me grounded. And I was happy that, just as I was able to teach the kids about being a gracious loser at Waverley, I was able to show them what it means to win graciously this year.”