PINEHURST — Before leaving last week for Pinehurst and the U.S. Women’s Open, Catherine O’Donnell tweeted she was ready to “tackle this beast that Donald Ross created for us.”
O’Donnell meant Pinehurst No. 2, the famed Sandhills course designed by Ross that would test the men in the U.S. Open and then the women this week. The former North Carolina golfer said she had played No. 2 more than 20 times through the years and believed she had a good feel for it.
“I’m comfortable on this golf course and I fully expected to play really well and have a chance to have a late tee time on Sunday,” she said Thursday.
Then came a surprise. She received a copy of the Women’s Open tee times and noticed one of her playing partners would be an amateur: Lucy Li of Redwood Shores, Calif.
“I recognized the name a little bit and there was an ‘a’ by it, and I said that’s probably the 11-year-old,” she said, smiling. “Then I was getting texts and everything, and I was interested to see how she would play.”
Li had a first-round 78. O’Donnell, who competes on the Symetra Tour, also shot 78. Starting the round at the 10th hole, she had one birdie, six bogeys and a triple-bogey 7 at the par-4 eighth hole (her 17th), when she tried to putt from off the green and had the ball roll back to her.
“I played so much better than my score, which is a little disappointing,” O’Donnell said. “I had a hard time getting in a rhythm on our back nine. We waited for such a long time. I’m such a rhythm player and that (messed) me up.
“I think I really played smart today and gave myself a chance to make pars. I just didn’t convert on my putts. I’m looking forward to getting back out there (Friday) because I really believe I can play this course well. I have in the past.”
O’Donnell, 24, was a four-time All-ACC selection at North Carolina. A member of the UNC Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, she has a degree in exercise and sport science.
O’Donnell is from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and her father, Michael, is CEO of Ruth’s Hospitality Group (Ruth’s Chris). She began playing on the Symetra Tour – the LPGA’s version of the Web.com Tour – in 2013 and had three top-10 finishes. It has been a slower go for her this year, but she made it through the USGA sectional qualifier in Rumson, N.J., to qualify for her first U.S. Women’s Open.
To get a shot at that Donald Ross “beast.”
Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip