21-year-old amateur Aine Donegan took to major championship golf like a duck to water, carding a three-under-par 69 on day one at the U.S. Women’s Open at the famed Pebble Beach.
Despite a threeball grouping that included major champions Patty Tavatanakit from Thailand and Korean Sung Hyun Park, Donegan beat her playing partners by two and 10 strokes respectively, but it wasn’t all plain sailing from the start.
Starting on the back nine, she’d bogey her opening two holes, missing a five-footer for par on 10 and failing to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker on 11, but after finding another greenside bunker on the par-3 12th, a neat blast to five-feet settled the nerves and this time she holed the putt for her first par of the day.
Two more followed on 13 and 14, and after finding the middle of the fairway on 15, a pinpoint wedge gripped and disappeared into the cup for an eagle two and she found herself at level par once again.
“Yeah, I started off a little bit nervy,” she’d admit afterwards. “I was actually doing well to be 2-over through four holes. Made two good up and downs on my third and fourth hole. Then, you know, hit a driver down 15 and I had about 96 to the pin and my coach said, just play it a little bit right of the pin. It all kind of feeds down and it’s an easy putt up the hill then.
“I hit the shot and I knew it was going to be good. Then it bounced, bounced, and kind of spins back and it just drops in. I have my family here and a few other Irish over here who live in the United States, and big scream from all the Irish people.”
Growing more comfortable with each hole, she came to the par-3 17th, with it’s angular hourglass-shaped green and the hole cut in the back section. Playing 184 yards, she’d pure a 4-iron to three feet and sink the putt to get into red figures and par the 18th to cover her opening nine in one-under.
A bogey at the first courtesy of a missed four-footer threatened to put the brakes on, but she responded in style by sinking a 15-footer for birdie at the next and then made it back-to-back birdies with an 18-footer on the par-4 third and two became three on the fourth after wedging to seven feet and at -3, she was tied for the lead.
She’d add another birdie at the par-5 sixth, rolling in another 15-footer and parred her way to the last where, after another drive that split the fairway, an under-hit wedge left a lengthy putt from the front edge that swung heavily from left-to-right and after leaving herself seven feet for par, would watch the putt slide agonisingly by before tapping in for a bogey five and a three-under 69 that leaves her in a tie for second with the afternoon wave just getting their rounds underway.
“Definitely the top,” a beaming Donegan said when asked where she’d rank this round in her career highlights thus far. “No doubt about it. Especially wouldn’t — let’s just say it wouldn’t be the first time I started bogey-bogey. For me to come back then and finish how I finish and play the rest of round, I’m really proud of myself for that.”
Donegan’s week started with every elite golfer’s nightmare, clubs lost in transit, and she was forced to play her first practice round with a set acquired from the PING tour truck, and though her clubs did eventually arrive, she’d taken a liking to the driver and was considering putting it in play.
“Anyway, the clubs arrive the next day, I think on Tuesday,” she explained, “and my driver is smashed, completely smashed. At least it stopped us thinking “oh, which driver will we use?” We had only one choice then. So I put that in. Honestly I am delighted I did. 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. I added the new 3-wood and hybrid as well, and fortunately for me, they were the perfect fit.”
“Yeah, the whole thing has been a bit surreal to be honest,” she added. “Nearly every five minutes it’s like a ‘pinch-me’ moment. 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.”
Donegan’s compatriot Leona Maguire will be among the last to get her opening round underway, teeing off in the fourth-to-last group alongside Jennifer Kupcho and Atthaya Thitikul, and will be hoping to follow Donegan’s lead and, like at the KPMG PGA Championship a fortnight ago, make it a two-pronged Irish assault on the first page of the leaderboard.