Florida senior fires 2-under 69 to share lead with Texas A&M star Maddie Szeryk
BY ALEX PODLOGAR
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. –Sydney Needham couldn’t wait to get back to Pinehurst.
And it showed in her game.
Playing her third Women’s North & South Amateur, the Florida senior had an eagle and two birdies to fire a 2-under 69 and share the lead with Texas A&M’s Maddie Szeryk after the first round of the 114th edition of the storied Pinehurst championship on Monday at Pinehurst No. 2.
“This is the one tournament out of the year where I’m excited to come out and play,” Needham said. “This is the one I look forward to every year. We’re taken care of by all the people here, and it makes me feel so good. And obviously, it translates out onto the golf course.”
Needham started her round on the 10th hole, and after a couple of pars, she holed out from the fairway on the 12th. Needham made birdies on both par-3s, the 15th and the 17th, to shoot a 4-under 32 on her first nine.
Needham made back-to-back bogeys after that, but finished with seven straight pars – including a nifty up-and-down from the swale right of the 9th green – to match Szeryk for the low round of the day.
It was also the best round Needham has played at No. 2. She narrowly missed the cut to the top 16 for match play a year ago.
“I come here every year because I love playing Pinehurst No. 2,” Needham said. “It’s so fun out here.
“The history of the golf course makes it just a really cool environment to be a part of,” Needham added. “It’s a golfer’s dream, it really is.”
Szeryk matched Needham’s dream round, making a staggering five birdies on the day in her first competitive appearance on No. 2. The Canada native holds several school records at Texas A&M, including scoring average, and it showed on Monday. Missing just one fairway, Szeryk was in control much of the day.
“I played really solid,” Szeryk said. “I knew when to go for it and when to just go for par and hit it to the middle of the green.
“I hit it really well today off the tee, and when you’re in the fairway here, it gives you some opportunities.”
Szeryk is one of several players with Team Canada, the nation’s developmental golf program. Team Canada has long been a presence at the North & South, and its talent was on display Monday. Fellow Canadian Jaclyn Lee added an even-par 71 to share third with another Florida standout, Kelly Grassel.
The championship will feature two more rounds of stroke play on Tuesday and Wednesday before the field is cut to the top 16 players. From there, the championship will be decided by match play, with the Round of 16 and quarterfinal matches being played Thursday and the semifinals and final played on Friday.
Despite the two rounds under par at the top of the leaderboard – the 2015 championship had just one round under par through 54 holes of medal play – No. 2 still lived up to its U.S. Open reputation . The stroke average for the field was 79.57, with the front nine averaging above 40. There were more double bogeys – 122 to 109 – than birdies.
The lone player to shoot under par on No. 2 a year ago was 2015 medalist Katelyn Dambaugh, who returns to the Women’s North & South after another brilliant season at South Carolina. The Annika Award runner-up and All-American said she wasn’t at her best on Monday, but still managed a 2-over 73 to find herself tied for seventh.
“It played pretty tough,” said Dambaugh, the top-ranked player in the field. “It’s just a really difficult golf course. “
Dambaugh, though, showed off her brilliance with perhaps the best par save of the day on the 419-yard par-4 8th. After hitting her approach long and left of the green – perhaps the most undesirable spot on all of No. 2 – Dambaugh faced a similar pitch and hole location that drove John Daly to smack his ball while it was still rolling in the 1999 U.S. Open.
Dambaugh, though, bumped her chip into the bank. Still, even she was stunned to see her ball stop 2 feet from the hole for a miracle par.
“I’ll never know how that happened,” Dambaugh said with laugh.
Manuela Carbajo Re had one of the best starts in Women’s North & South history, opening with a birdie on the 1st, an eagle on the 2nd and a birdie on the 3rd to be 4 under through 3. While she stumbled with a triple bogey on the par-4 7th, Carbajo Re still managed a 1-over 72 to share fifth with junior golf standout Jennifer Chang, of Cary.
North & South champions are among the legends of the game: Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Peggy Kirk Bell, Hollis Stacey as well as Brandie Burton, Brittany Lang, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng. As much as the North & South is a championship with a great past, it also continues to foster a great legacy. Ten of the last 13 Amateur champions have joined the LPGA Tour, three of whom have won major championships – Pressel, Tseng and as of Sunday, Lang, who won the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open.