U.S. Women's Open
Irish amateur Aine Donegan overcomes travel travails that included a broken driver and is on the leader board
Matthew Ashton - AMA
PEBBLE BEACH – Smashing drivers down the center of Pebble's fairways is crucial to succeeding on the trouble-filled course. Irish amateur Aine Donegan, 21, playing in her first-ever professional tournament at the U.S. Women's Open, hit 12 of 14 fairways on her way to a three-under-par 69 Thursday, a stroke off the lead.
Before the start of the tournament, however, after a 30-hour travel day from Scotland to San Francisco, Donegan dealt with another smashed driver -- the clubhead on hers was broken when it finally arrived with the rest of her clubs Tuesday.
"It's like everything happens for a reason, that the clubs were late, and then the driver came, and it was broken, and all of a sudden, I have no choice but to put this Ping driver in," Donegan said.
When Donegan arrived at Pebble Beach, the LSU sophomore went to the Ping truck to get replacement clubs. She and Gary Madden, her coach and caddie this week, knew they'd have a tough decision to make with how well she practiced with the new driver. In a fortunate outcome from a trying twist of fortune, the decision was made for them with the broken club.
The rest of her preparation felt storied. Donegan signed autographs for young fans who provided a mirror of her younger self. She had a practice round with Annika Sorenstam, who casually answered that she won three U.S. Women's Opens when Donegan inquired. She called LSU teammate Ingrid Lindblad, who was low amateur at last year's U.S. Women's Open and carded a 65 in the first round to sit in second place, for advice on how things worked, particularly getting tickets to her family.
Donegan kept her Ping driver, three-wood, and hybrid in her bag, turning back to her old irons. Still, her opening round began nervy, reflecting her week. Donegan, starting on the difficult No. 10, bogeyed the first two, scrambled to save par the next two, and jarred a 96-yard 50-degree wedge for eagle on her sixth hole. It all amounted to even par, settling Donegan before posting five more birdies over the rest of her round.
"That's one thing we talk a lot about with the team is competitive toughness," LSU Women's Head Coach Garrett Runion, who was at Pine Needles and on the ground at Pebble this week, said. "She just kept her head down and kept her composure and had a few things go her way and was able to post an excellent round."
Donegan's three under marks back-to-back U.S. Women's Opens with an amateur Tiger near the top of the leaderboard after the first round. Lindblad, now a senior at LSU, carded a 65 at Pine Needles last year to sit a stroke off the lead. Donegan leads three amateurs in the top five of the leader board through the morning wave.
"It's been great,” Runion,said. "I think Ingrid was obviously the number one amateur of the world. That [performance] was less surprising maybe, to see."
The top-of-the-leader board performance may be a shock, given Donegan's 144th spot in the Women's Amateur Golf Rankings. Her recent amateur performances, however, speak otherwise. She finished in the top 15 in all but one of her spring events and finished T-6 at the R&A's Women's Amateur stroke play. Donegan beat Lindblad in match play, 2 and 1, at the Vagliano Trophy in Scotland last Saturday.
The extensive travel across the world to Pebble didn't change the style of golf much for Donegan. The wind reminds her of the Irish links courses. For now, Donegan's basking in the opportunity to be in contention in her first professional tournament.
"The whole thing has been a bit surreal to be honest," Dunegan said. "Nearly every five minutes it's a pinch-me movement. Even just walking to the putting green and young girls asking for autographs and stuff. It's like, that was me. And to do it at a place like Pebble Beach is something I'll never forget."