PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Aine Donegan’s missing club fiasco turned into a storybook silver lining early on at the 78th US Women’s Open. The Irishwoman’s travels from the Vagliano Trophy in Scotland took her to Dublin and then San Francisco via Newark, the epicenter of travel nightmares over the past two weeks.
When Donegan, a rising junior at LSU, arrived in San Francisco after 30 hours of travel, his clubs did not. The airport assured her they would arrive the next day. When they didn’t, the 21-year-old played her first practice round at Pebble Beach Golf Links with a courtesy set of Ping clubs.
Donegan typically plays Ping irons, but found herself hitting a new Ping driver so well during practice that she told her coach/caddie, Gary Madden, that she might put it in play.
Turns out that when Donegan’s clubs finally did arrive, her driver head was completely smashed.
“At least it stopped us thinking ‘Oh, which driver we’ll use. We had only one choice then,’ said Donegan.
“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.”
That driver set up the 96-yard shot Donegan holed on the 15th for eagle that erased the two bogeys she made at the start of the round on Nos. 10 and 11. The reset propelled her to a career day in her US Women’s Open debut. In fact, she topped the board early in the morning at 4 under before a late bogey dropped her to 3-under 69, one shot behind leader Xiyu “Janet” Lin.
“I hit the shot and I knew it was going to be good,” said Donegan. “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.”
On a day when many of the best players in the world struggled mightily, Donegan is one of three amateurs in the top five midway through the day. World no. 1 Jin Young Ko shot 79 while No. 2 Nelly Korda shot 74.
Italy’s Bernadetta Moresco, an Alabama standout who survived a 2-for-1 playoff in sectional qualifying to advance to Pebble, carded a bogey-free 70 to open play and holds a share of fifth with USC’s Amari Avery. Moresco said her putter “was on fire” Thursday.
“I was definitely nervous my first holes,” she said. “But it’s my third major, so I’ve experienced it already, and for the first time, I feel like I’m in the right place. I’m happy about it, as I’m also trying to turn professional soon.”
Avery made headlines earlier this year at the Chevron Championship when she made the cut without ever playing a practice round in Texas. The Pac 12 Conference Championship was held earlier in the same week, and after Avery helped the Trojans win the title, she finished 45th in the LPGA’s first major of the year.
This is Avery’s second USWO start.
“It’s so surreal,” said Avery, who played Pebble Beach for the first time on Monday. “I catch myself on every hole just kind of looking out to the ocean and just appreciating the fact that I’m even here, and playing a US Open here as well is even more special.”
While Rose Zhang, the newly-minted pro who came in this week as the betting favorite, garnered much of the attention this week, her former Stanford teammates Kelly Xu and Sadie Englemann enjoyed a special honor on Thursday. At 7 am, Xu hit the first tee shot off No. 1 while Englemann went first off the 10th.
“I almost started crying on the first tee,” said Xu. “It was just amazing. I don’t even have words to describe it.”
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek