Pinehurst No. 2 is hard again.
Unless you are Emilia Migliaccio. On 16. From 210 yards away.
About a week after Luke Clanton marched over Pinehurst No. 2 by fearlessly aiming at tucked hole locations on his way to winning the 122nd North & South Amateur – he joined Runner-Up Tommy Morrison as they stomped their way to 10 birdies and an eagle through the first 12 holes of the final match – Donald Ross’s masterpiece bit back in the first round of stroke play on Tuesday in the 120th Women’s North & South Amateur.
Thankfully for the players, there was Pinehurst No. 4.
Fourteen of the lowest 18 rounds of the day came on Gil Hanse’s redesign of No. 4 as North Carolina’s Kayla Smith made six birdies and no bogeys on her way to a sparkling 6-under 66 to lead by one shot over Auburn’s Casey Weidenfeld and UCLA’s Zoe Antoinette Campos. Three players – Aloysa Margiela Atienza, Melena Barrientos and Emma Schimpf – were each another shot back and tied for fourth after 3-under 69s. They all played No. 4.
“I have started on No. 4 the last two years, and shot under par, but obviously you have to get as many shots as possible for playing No. 2,” Smith said. “I’m glad I was able to put a good round on today.”
Neither Weidenfeld nor Campos had a bogey on Tuesday, and Barrientos made five birdies alone on the back nine, including four consecutively from 14-17.
“I had definitely heard that (No. 4) is certainly more forgiving than No. 2,” Barrientos said. “If you’re a good putter on this course, that’s a huge advantage because the greens are so tough on No. 2. I knew I had to go lower on this course to be in contention.
“It was really fun.”
Emilia Migliaccio hits a shot during Tuesday’s first round of the 120th Women’s North & South Amateur on Pinehurst No. 2. (Photo by John Patota)
Which, finally, brings us to the next group of players – and Migliaccio. Remember her? She was mentioned 303 words ago. Never have four shots on a leaderboard felt so differently, or so far away.
Twelve players finished their rounds with 2-under 70s. Only four of them played No. 2, including one of the most decorated amateurs in the game today, Migliaccio, who decided in 2021 to keep her status after graduating from Wake Forest rather than turn pro.
How she got there was a lesson in her undeniable talent and No. 2 itself. Migliaccio made birdies on 3 and 5 to quickly get to 2 under, but found trouble on the par-7th – even after she had hit what seemed to be a perfect approach shot.
“I experienced what No. 2 was capable of,” Migliaccio quipped. “I’ve played it for so many years that, if you know where to place the ball, it’s doable. But I did have one hole where I almost jarred it – it was hole 7 – and I hit it half a foot left of the flag, and it went down the hill. And I chipped…and it went down the hill again.”
Ah, there’s the No. 2 we all know and love.
“That happens to everyone,” Migliaccio said, shrugging.
What she did on the par-5 16th, though, decidedly does not happen to everyone – or really anyone, for that matter.
Playing 478 yards in stroke play, Migliaccio hit a good drive into left side of the fairway on 16 and was left with 210 yards to the pin. That’s where she let her aforementioned experience take over.
“I knew I needed to hit it onto the front of the green; you don’t want to be over,” she said. “So I hit a grip-down hybrid.
“It hit the front of the green, right in the middle, and it just kept rolling, rolling, rolling. We were so afraid of going over, so we were yelling, ‘Sit! Sit! Sit!’”
But could’ve used just one more roll.
“Literally an inch from the hole,” Migliaccio said. “It was crazy.
“I’ve actually made an albatross before, but that? That was really cool.”
Malia Nam hits a drive during Tuesday’s play on Pinehurst No. 2. (Photo by John Patota)
Also cool was Malia Nam’s deft shot from the left bunker on the par-3 17th. Playing in Migliaccio’s group, Nam got as low as 3 under on No. 2, and her sandy splash landed softly and trickled almost interminably on the firm and fast green until it nestled 5 feet above the cup. After making the slippery putt for par, Nam, who is playing in her sixth North & South (maybe seventh, she’s not sure – “I’ve kind of lost track,” she said, laughing) picked up a knowing nod from her playing partner.
“Really good, Malia!” Migilaccio shouted.
Then No. 2 happened again. Nam bogeyed the 18th to finish at 2-under 70, but was pleased overall.
“On this course, it’s all about maintaining, and then minimizing your mistakes,” Nam said. “I made a few bogeys, but that’s better than making a double.
“I definitely feel relief off my shoulders now that No. 2 is done. But I do think No. 4 can be tough. It’s uniquely different, and you can still make big mistakes on No. 4. I’m definitely not going in there like it’s a chill round tomorrow.
“But it’s definitely nice to get No. 2 out of the way.”
The field will play their opposite course for the second round on Wednesday. The top 32 players will make the cut for match play beginning Thursday, and the championship match is scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
Of course, it will be played on Pinehurst No. 2.
Players, you’ve been warned.