The sun pours through the windows upstairs in the clubhouse of Donegal Golf Club Murvagh as the inaugural PGA Pro-Am gets underway with the club heaving with members buzzing with excitement as they feast on the weekend golfing festival.
As expected there is a hum of chatter echoing across the room but conversations are far away from speculating who might win the two-day pro-am or if the weather will hold up.
The name on everyone’s lips is a 21-year-old from Lahinch who has endeared herself to the world. Áine Donegan.
“Isn’t that little one fantastic?” says one member sitting at a table with three others. “Where did she say she was from? Lahinch?” says another.
“C’mere the Americans have some hassle pronouncing her name, ‘Dawnigin'”
It’s at least three and a half hours from Donegal to Lahinch where Donegan holds membership. A talented junior she earned a scholarship to Indiana
It’s a shame for Irish viewers that Donegan’s foray on the world stage coincides with the dreaded west coast major but many would have stayed up in time for her magnificent and candid ‘walk and talk’ video with the American broadcasters.
Unfortunately for Áine, she would fall foul to the inevitable post chat bogey as she pushed her approach shot into the right greenside bunker on the 8th and was unable to save par.
She earned widespread acclaim for her interview on social media coming across as a breath of fresh air instead of the usual mundane answers most tour pros give from their archive of rehearsed responses.
“Jaysus wasn’t Donegan great on the television last night? Did you see her interview on the course? They’ll be buzzing in Lahinch after that,” says one Donegal member over a breakfast bap in the clubhouse on Saturday morning.
“Oh she’ll have to turn pro after this. Sure wouldn’t she be well used to the wind in Lahinch.”
One wouldn’t know that a certain Leona Maguire was just six shots off the halfway lead… Or that she was even playing.
As No Laying Up put it on Twitter on Friday night Donegan is ‘easy to root for.’ For those that don’t know her, this interview was a toned down version of the usually bubbly Ennis woman.
Donegan could talk for Ireland, in fact in a pre-US Women’s Open press conference on zoom she spoke for almost five minutes on the weather in her Qualifying event last month which she finished second in to book her spot at Pebble Beach.
She took that qualifier in her stride and her US Women’s Open journey was about to get even more eventful as she travelled up to 30 hours from Royal Dornoch, Scotland to Dublin to San Francisco.
However, her golf clubs were late arriving and when they did finally show up on site, her driver was snapped and several other clubs had been damaged. In went a new driver, 3-wood, hybrid and wedges. Hardly ideal preparation with worthy excuses more than understandable had this week gone poorly.
But Donegan is as easy as they come and in the face of adversity she came out laughing. Looking back, she will view this as a happy accident having left the long hitting Thai star Patty Tavatanakit for dead off some tee boxes.
Donegan hit many fabulous drives over the course of the two days which reflected her mindset. This isn’t an amateur who is just happy to be there, she looked at her utmost ease on the links far beyond someone who is making her first major championship appearance. She took driver off the par-4 8th before tuning in for her walk and chat – while her two playing partners hit 3-wood.
It’s been one of those weeks where things just happen for an amateur at a major tournament. We had it this year with Sam Bennett at the Masters, Justin Rose at Birkdale 26 years ago and even Donegan’s LSU teammate Ingrid Lindblad took the US Women’s Open by storm last year.
A hole out eagle on day one helped her to an opening 69 as she dug her teeth into Pebble Beach, relishing every shot.
At one stage during the first round she was tied for the lead and a second round 76 saw her make the halfway cut at a canter leaving her in a share of eleventh place on one-over, eight shots off the lead and her reward is a Saturday tee time with Amy Yang.
A talented sportswoman, had fate gone another way she might be boarding the plane for Australia alongside Katie McCabe and the Ireland Women’s team for the upcoming World Cup having represented the girls in green at underage level before focusing on golf.
A golf scholarship at Indiana University soon followed where she was the standout performer before a bold transfer to Louisiana State University – where she rubs shoulders with world no.1 amateur Lindblad and often beats her! – took her game to another level.
An honourable mention as an All-American she notched two top-3 finishes a top-10 and there top-20s for LSU, At 144 in the world amateur rankings is by no means a star in the amateur game. In fact, she isn’t event the highest ranked Irishwoman with Lauren Walsh (31), Beth Coulter (101) and Anna Foster (107) ahead of her.
It was a surprise to see her qualify for this week’s US Open but she has shown herself to be a woman for the big occasion.