By Alex Podlogar

Megan Schofill and Anna Morgan know Pinehurst about as well as anyone. They’ve both been runners-up in the Women’s North & South Amateur, and each also made another spirited run to the semifinals in the last two years. They can be as articulate about how they feel about the place as they are in describing how to play it.

Katie Li has never been to Pinehurst.

Guess who leads.

The 18-year-old Duke recruit from Basking Ridge, NJ, has been one of the top junior players in the country – she even won her last start – and sits atop the 121st Women’s North & South Amateur leaderboard after Tuesday’s first round following a sparkling 5-under 67.

With six birdies against one lone bogey, Li said she just kept everything as simple as possible on No. 4, the host course for the first round. The championship moves onto famed Pinehurst No. 2 for the second round of stroke play on Wednesday.

“I’m going to be real honest – it was just fairways and greens,” said Li, who hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation. “It was just consistent play and then if I got lucky and made the putt.”

That simple gameplan worked to perfection for Li, who won the Polo Golf Junior Classic two weeks ago. While that simplicity was necessary to respect Pinehurst, it was also to keep the butterflies at bay.

“I was nervous coming into today. It’s an aggressive cut this week, so I tried to come in with an open mind,” Li said. “I kind of forgot that I won a couple of weeks ago. But really, that doesn’t matter this week.”

Megan Schofill hits her tee shot on Pinehurst No. 4. (Photo by Zach Pessagno)Megan Schofill hits her tee shot on Pinehurst No. 4. (Photo by Zach Pessagno)

Especially not with the wealth of talent behind her, including two players who have reached the championship match, each in one of the last two years. Schofill, who fell 2&1 to Emilia Migliaccio last summer, returns to Pinehurst ranked highly in both the World Amateur Golf Ranking and the Golfweek College Rankings after another successful season at Auburn.

Schofill made four birdies in the last six holes on No. 4 to finish a stroke behind Li with a 68, sharing second place with four others, including 2022 quarterfinalist Justice Bosio.

“I like the back nine on No. 4 a lot,” Schofill said. “I think it just really suits my game – well, other than 17; I just don’t like that tee shot – but for me it feels like the rest of the course is gettable on the back nine.

“I love coming to Pinehurst. I love 2 and 4. They’re both great golf courses. They’re both really challenging, but if you make good, aggressive swings into conservative targets, you’re going to play some good golf. Both these courses, you just really need to respect them.”

Anna Morgan looks on during the first round of the Women's North & South Amateur. (Photo by Zach Pessagno)Anna Morgan looks on during the first round of the Women's North & South Amateur. (Photo by Zach Pessagno)

Morgan, the 2021 North & South Runner-Up after a gutsy match against Champion Gina Kim, returns to Pinehurst chasing another shot at the coveted Putter Boy trophy that has been won by so many of the greatest women’s players in history. A graduate of Furman, this North & South is likely her last chance.

“I don’t know, I just always love coming back here every year,” Morgan said. “And knowing this most likely is going to be my last chance at a North & South, I just want to give myself the best opportunity I can. And it’s hard because I’ve played so well the last couple of years that the last thing I need to do is put too much pressure on myself. I’m just trying to enjoy the day. It just always feels fun to come back to Pinehurst.”

She had fun again on Tuesday, playing the last 10 holes in 4 under to finish two shots back and share seventh place with five others after a 3-under 69.

“We get along,” Morgan said, chuckling. “Pinehurst golf is difficult. You just need to be really smart about when to be aggressive. I just try to come out with the same gameplan and not really change anything each year. At least, so far, it seems to be working.”

Katie Li hits a tee shot on Tuesday. (Photo by John Patota)Katie Li hits a tee shot on Tuesday. (Photo by John Patota)

While Li finished a few groups after both Schofill and Morgan, it was as if the pair were giving the junior a lesson in all things Pinehurst Golf.

It was good advice.

“I’ll just go into tomorrow and No. 2 and hopefully on to match play and see what the rest of the week has in store,” Schofill said. “I don’t really want to get too far ahead of myself.”

“Obviously, I’d love for it all to come together perfectly at the end, but, well, it’s golf, and you just never know what will happen,” Morgan said. “You have to stay patient.”

“On 2, everyone knows this: par is a great score,” Schofill added.

And though Li finished well after Schofill and Morgan were gone, it was almost as if she had listened to the experienced – and successful – pair.

“Pars are good,” Li said, adding emphasis. “Pars. Are. Good.”

Welcome to Pinehurst, kid.