By Alex Podlogar
It can look so benign.
Walk Pinehurst No. 2 for the first time, and you might miss it at first. There are no forced carries. Sure, it can be stretched out for U.S. Opens, but for the casual player, it’s not all that long. The fairways are wide and generous. The only water on the course shouldn’t – and sorry if it did – come into play.
Of course, there are the greens. Those famed turtlebacks. But even those, sometimes, don’t truly reveal themselves until you are faced with the terror of watching your ball react to them.
But even the most purely struck shot might leave you in peril, or worse, in Willie McRae’s “Dead City.” Wrong side of the pin? Sorry, that’s No. 2. A bit too much spin? Sorry, that’s No. 2. Miss the fairway by a yard and find your ball in a tuft of wire grass? Sorry, that’s No. 2.
Make the wrong decision from the fairway?
Sorry, that’s No. 2. Get your wedge. Or maybe your putter. Play the shot you are now faced with the best way you can. Pull it off, and you’ll be rewarded. Miss it? Well, try not to miss it so much.
Canada’s Brooke Rivers was the only player to finish under par on Pinehurst No. 2 on Tuesday. (Photo by Melissa Schaub)
Eight days ago, Canadian junior golfer Brooke Rivers didn’t miss. She went for hole locations. She went for par-5s in two shots. It was the first round of the Girls’ North & South Junior, and on a shorter, more accessible No. 2, Rivers, 16, had five birdies and opened with a 4-under 68. Two days later on Pinehurst No. 6, she won the tournament.
Tuesday, in the first round of the 119th Women’s North & South Amateur, it was a different day, a different championship, a different test. Rivers watched once as her playing partner tried to strong-arm a shot from the native area to a tucked pin.
It ended poorly.
“This week, you really have to weigh the risk-reward of the shot,” Rivers said. “It you make one bad decision, you can get into a lot of trouble. Sometimes, you have to make sure that if you miss, you leave it in a spot that gives you a chance at an up-and-down.”
That wisdom beyond her years was evident in Rivers’ approach on Tuesday, where she overcame a brutally tough No. 2 to make four birdies around three bogeys on her way to a 1-under 71 to finish a stroke back of leader Hsin-Yu “Cynthia” Lu, who shot a 2-under 70 on Pinehurst No. 4.
“I was able to get off to a great start,” said Rivers, who birdied the third, fourth and fifth holes to get to 3 under through five. “That gave me some room to play with for the rest of the round.
“On No. 2, you have to play smart, try to get your par and go on.”
Women’s North & South leader Hsin-Yu Lu (Photo by John Patota)
Lu emerged as the leader on Tuesday, leading eight players who finished the day tied for second at 1 under. The highest-ranked recruit in Oregon Ducks history, Lu made the turn in even par before making three birdies around a bogey on the back nine to lead entering the final day of stroke play.
The field will be cut to the top 32 players after play on Wednesday. They will then be seeded into match play to determine the champion. All rounds of match play will be played on No. 2.
And that may be interesting, because…well…because…
Hell hath no fury like a golf course superintendent scorned.
Or something like that.
With the best field of the year in town, No. 2 and No. 4 proved up to the challenge of the best women’s amateur golfers in the world, reminding them that Pinehurst doesn’t just crown champions, it reveals them.
No. 2 in particular played to its reputation as the U.S. Open’s first Anchor Site, and its firm, fast championship conditions showed in the players’ scoring averages. While nine players managed to be under par following the first round, only one of them – Rivers – managed to get into red figures when playing No. 2. In all, with half the field playing the first round of medal play on No. 2 – don’t worry, ladies of No. 2, the ladies of No. 4 get their chance Wednesday – the course played to 78.2 average, a full six shots over the par-72.
Defending North & South Champion Rachel Kuehn got the full brunt of No. 2, making five bogeys and a double on her way to a 5-over 77 that left her in a tie for 66th. So too did Chinese Taipei’s Ho Yu An, who at seventh in the world is the highest ranked player in the field, shot 40 on the front nine on her way to a 7-over 79. Aneka Seumanutafa, twice a quarterfinalist at Pinehurst and the 2017 Girls’ North & South Junior Champion, shot 77 on Donald Ross’s famed masterpiece.
Allisen Corpuz, the runner-up a year ago and the medalist a year before that, picked up a couple of strokes on the field with birdies on 15 and 16 to close with a 2-over 74 on No. 2. That has her in a tie for 30th, but could’ve been much worse after getting to 4 over at one point.
Not that No. 4 was all that much easier. It still played to a 74.8 average, nearly three shots over par.
The message was sent – you’re going to have to work for this one.
Welcome to Pinehurst.