U.S. Women’s Open shines spotlight on Moore County

MinJee Lee and her Caddy walk onto the 18th green during the final round of the 77th U.S. Woman’s Open at Pine Needles lodge & Golf Club, in Southern Pines, June 5, 2022. (PJ WARD-BROWN/NORTH STATE JOURNAL)

PINE NEEDLES — This year’s U.S. Women’s Open was the fourth to be held at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Resort, the most for a single venue in the event. It’s the fifth overall to be held in the Pinehurst area.

The U.S. Golf Association likes Moore County so much it’s bringing its headquarters to Pinehurst and has already announced plans to bring both the women’s and men’s Opens to Pinehurst’s famed No. 2 course on consecutive weeks in 2029 along with four other dates for the men at No. 2 starting in 2024. 

As far as Leona Maguire is concerned, that’s not soon enough.

“It’s a pity we don’t have a major championship here every year or even a regular LPGA event,” said the former Duke star, who finished Saturday’s third round tied for 10th, eight shots behind leader Minjee Lee of Australia.

“North Carolina has been a second home to me since I went to Duke, and the first time I ever came to America was to Pinehurst. North Carolina has a really special place in my heart. I’m really enjoying being out here this week.”

Maguire, a native of Ireland, is one of six players with state ties to make the field for the national championship event. Brittany Lang, the 2016 Women’s Open champion, and France’s Celine Boutier are also from Duke. Second round leader Mina Harigae was also a Blue Devil for a semester before turning pro in 2008.

Jennifer Kupcho and Allison Emery played their college golf at Wake Forest.

All six players made the cut and played the weekend. 

“There’s been plenty of Blue Devil shouts and all that,” she said. “So it’s nice to have some home support.”

Although none of the golfers with North Carolina ties took home the trophy on Sunday, the eventual winner had her own connection to North Carolina and Moore County.

Open winner Minjee Lee was mentored by fellow Aussie Karrie Webb, who won the 2001 Women’s Open at Pine Needles and her caddie Jason Gilroyed was on the bag for Christie Kerr when she won the title at Pine Needles in 2007.

Lee said she exchanged texts with Webb overnight on Friday, but despite the local course knowledge of her team, she did not seek out any advice from either of them.

“I feel like the course has changed quite a lot. It’s been quite a while (since 2017),” she said. “(Gilroyed) said all the rough is gone. I think maybe they remodeled the course. But I know he knows the layout pretty well and just like the undulations of the greens.”

Lee won the tournament by four strokes over Mina Harigae to earn $1.8 million, the largest payout in the history of women’s golf.

While the course yielded some lower than usual scores for a USGA event, the most impressive aspect of this Women’s Open to the players involved has been the atmosphere provided by the large, knowledgeable galleries. 

“I think overall this is probably some of the biggest crowds that I’ve seen at the U.S. Women’s Open,” said former world No. 1 Lydia Ko, who finished fifth at five-under par. “This is a huge golfing community. It’s actually nice to go to places where people love it, people are excited about women’s golf being here, people are excited about golf in general.”

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