Coe-Jones hailed as returning hero

JOHN HERBERT -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

The moment Dawn Coe-Jones arrived at the London Hunt and Country Club yesterday, she was a marked woman.

London golf fans threw out XL smiles for the former first lady of Canadian golf, who dazzled the Hunt Club galleries with her shot-making in 1993 at the du Maurier Classic, coming within a whisker of winning.

Still a Canadian hero after 23 years, Coe-Jones was the first "big name" to show up for this week's Canadian Women's Open. It will be her 21st appearance, but none has been better on home soil than in London.

The championship begins Thursday. A field of 156 will play, including four who qualified yesterday.

Canadian Jennifer Greggain of Chilliwack, B.C. shot two-under 70 to lead qualifying. Americans Janell Howland and D'Rae Ward both shot 71, while the fourth spot went to American Denise Munzlinger with a 72.

None of the five area hopefuls made the field.

Golf fans who packed the Hunt parking lots yesterday cheered Coe-Jones of Lake Cowichan, B.C., every step of the way in the women's-only pro-am -- the first official event of the week. Royal Canadian Golf Association officials did not know how many spectators attended, as admission was free.

Coe-Jones loved every minute as she walked down memory lane.

"I thought I would remember a lot more than I did, but when I got out there, I remembered some of the holes, the clubhouse, the setting and lots of people came up and said, 'Hey, I was here in '93,' " she said.

"The golf course was tremendous in '93 and it might even be better now."

She thinks with good weather it is possible for someone to shoot a 63 and that somebody could shoot "double digits" under par over four rounds.

In 1993, Coe-Jones missed a playoff by a shot. Brandie Burton beat Betsy King to win the du Maurier.

Of course, she remembers it as if it were yesterday. She shot 68 the final round. She remembers, as did many golf fans who were there, the heavy thunderstorm that flooded the course and forced a delay of about two hours. She remembers the excitement of the crowds pulling for her, as they did in 1973 for Jocelyne Bourassa, when she became the only Canadian to win the national open.

Coe-Jones was robbed of her momentum when it poured.

There is not a trace of bitterness as she turned back the clock yesterday.

"I think it kind of slowed my momentum because I was in my element," she recalled. "I was in Vancouver Island weather and it was raining a bit. They had the delay and it interrupted my momentum.

"But it was fun to be there and it'd be fun to be there again. Nobody wants to win this tournament more than I do. I was so close.

"But I'm proud of the fact I played well and have played well in a lot of Canadian Opens. It's always a special feeling to come home and play and then to do well."

Coe-Jones hasn't had a great year, but believes "coming in fresh" and with no pressure on her to win could lead to a strong finish.

"I came here not playing well before and I did well. I'm going to feed off everything positive at the Hunt Club."

Coe-Jones, a Floridian now living in Tampa, may have passed the top-Canadian torch to Lorie Kane a long time ago, but she's not about to concede she can't beat Kane.

Who would she bet on? "I wouldn't put my money on Lorie. I'd put it on me."

Coe-Jones has some advice for the country's 17 younger players playing this week -- embrace the enthusiasm and enjoy yourself.

The tournament is riding a wave of excitement since CN stepped up and saved it in October. It raised the purse to $1.7 million US and has secured a solid field, especially given that it is being played days after the British Open -- an LPGA major.

"I know they're all going to probably put pressure on themselves to play well," Coe-Jones said. "Over the years I've learned that you just go out there and enjoy the atmosphere and feed off the fans.

"They are there to support you and want Canadians to do well."


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