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Pine Needles, local fans make positive impression on Women’s Open players – The North State Journal

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Former Duke player Leona Maguire watches her shot off the second tee during the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

PINE NEEDLES — This year’s U.S. Women’s Open is the fourth to be held at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Resort, the most for a single venue in the event. It’s the fifth overall to be held in the Pinehurst area.

The U.S. Golf Association likes the Sandhills so much that it’s already announced that it plans to bring both the women’s and men’s Opens to Pinehurst’s famed No. 2 course on consecutive weeks in 2029.

As far as Leona Maguire is concerned, that’s not soon enough.

“It’s a pity we don’t have a major championship here every year or even a regular LPGA event,” said the former Duke star, who finished Saturday’s third round tied for 10th, eight shots behind leader Minjee Lee of Australia.

“North Carolina has been a second home to me since I went to Duke, and the first time I ever came to America was to Pinehurst. North Carolina has a really special place in my heart. I’m really enjoying being out here this week.”

Maguire, a native of Ireland, is one of six players with state ties to make the field for the national championship event. Brittany Lang, the 2016 Women’s Open champion, and France’s Celine Boutier are also from Duke. Second round leader Mina Harigae, who will start the final round three shots behind Lee in second place, was also a Blue Devil for a semester before turning pro in 2008.

Jennifer Kupcho and Allison Emery played their college golf at Wake Forest.

All six players made the cut and are playing this weekend. Maguire, the only one of the group remains even on the fringes of contention, said she has felt the love from fans since arriving at Pine Needles.

“There’s been plenty of Blue Devil shouts and all that,” she said. “So it’s nice to have some home support.”

Although it’s unlikely any of the golfers with North Carolina ties will take home the trophy on Sunday, it’s possible that the eventual winner will have a connection to Pine Needles.

Minjee Lee’s caddy Jason Gilroyed was on Christie Kerr’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles in 2007 (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Not only has leader Lee been mentored by fellow Aussie Karrie Webb, who won the 2001 Women’s Open at the resort, but her caddie Jason Gilroyed was on the bag for Christie Kerr when she won the title at Pine Needles in 2007.

Lee said she exchanged texts with Webb overnight on Friday, but despite the local course knowledge of her team, she hasn’t sought out any advice from either of them.

“I feel like the course has changed quite a lot. It’s been quite a while (since 2017),” she said. “(Gilroyed) said all the rough is gone. I think maybe they remodeled the course. But I know he knows the layout pretty well and just like the undulations of the greens.”

While the course has yielded some lower than usual scores for a USGA event, the most impressive aspect of this Women’s Open to the players involved has been the atmosphere provided by the large, knowledgeable galleries. 

“I think overall this is probably some of the biggest crowds that I’ve seen at the U.S. Women’s Open,” said the former world No. 1, who shot a 66 on Saturday to move into fourth place at 6-under par. “This is a huge golfing community. It’s actually nice to go to places where people love it, people are excited about women’s golf being here, people are excited about golf in general.”

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