A physically and emotionally drained Aine Donegan covered the back nine of the her final round at Pebble Beach in four-over, agonisingly missing out on the Silver Medal for low amateur by a single stroke, but the bubbly 21-year-old from County Clare had won the hearts of golfing fans worldwide with her on-course play and demeanour, and genuine nature in front of the microphone off it.
“Yeah, very emotional,” was her response when asked how it felt walking off 18. “Today was a long day. I’m fighting a bit of an illness at the moment. Woke up feeling horrible and I didn’t have much energy, to be honest.”
Despite the disappointment of missing out on the low amateur honours and of slipping to a tie for 45th whilst under the weather, she remained upbeat and focused on the positives.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better week,” she said. “My goal was to make the cut.
“And then obviously today is disappointing, but I’m coming off a long stretch of events, and unfortunately today I didn’t feel great yesterday, and I knew I was kind of getting a bit sick, and then today I have no energy and a bit of a cold and stuff.
“So happy with how the week went, and I can’t thank the USGA and all the fans enough for everything, really. And my coach Gary from Glenlo Abbey and everyone at home as well supporting me.”
Playing in her first major championship was always going to be a learning experience and with the scramble of a lost set of clubs thrown into the mix along with the media spotlight, it’s little wonder that she felt exhausted.
“Probably that I played with a lot of different pros,” she replied when asked what was her biggest takeaway from the week, “and probably that it’s more — my ball-striking would be probably on par with them and stuff, and my putting is probably more just decision making and less kind of silly mistakes.
“I made a double bogey today from just a stupid shot out of the bunker. That would be what I’ve learned. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that these tournaments are tiring, definitely. I kind of admire the pros more after that, after this week, for how much they travel and just how exhausting it actually is. That would be the biggest thing.”
After quickly ending any speculation that she could turn pro by stating definitively that she was going to remain at Louisiana State University, she sent a gentle reminder to the Women’s Irish Open organisers (not that’s it’s likely to be needed) to inform them that she will be available in September.
“Yeah, I have a final qualifier for The Open,” she said when asked what was next, “and then I have the Irish Open at Dromoland Castle hopefully. If they give me an invite. I got invited last year so hopefully that again this year. And it’s only 10 minutes from my house, which will be very nice.”
Compatriot Leona Maguire, who like Donegan had flirted with contention in the early stages before fading over the weekend, was asked what advice she might impart for Aine after the week she’d had.
“Yeah, she’s had a fantastic week,” Leona said, “obviously. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime weeks, obviously, so hopefully she can enjoy it as much as she can.”
Maguire is another who’s choosing to take the positives from the week, even if it didn’t pan out how she might have liked.
“I mean, it’s a really good golf course,” she said. “Felt like I played some really good golf, hit some really nice shots.
“Overall it was a really tough test, and for the most part I played pretty well.”