Sophie Zhang-Murphy (Zach Pessagno, Pinehurst)
By Alex Podlogar
OK, we may like to point out Pinehurst No. 2’s major championship pedigree, its bucket-listness, its rightful place as the Cradle of American Golf and the first Anchor Site of the U.S. Open. And, sure, we may even, on occasion (like, say, yesterday), celebrate its difficulty. That said, we’re not above a little constructive criticism. After all, we are on Twitter (still). So, yeah, we hear it.
We just may never hear it as politely as Sophie Zhang-Murphy put it. Or from someone who also plays it so well.
Zhang-Murphy will concede No. 2 is a great-looking course. She will also accept that it’s an important one, and maybe even one she’d actually like to play more for how well it could fine-tune her game. In fact, it’s safe to say that Zhang-Murphy fully understands what has made No. 2 so challenging to the best players in the game for over a century.
“I don’t particularly like the course, but I don’t dislike it,” she said. “If you make a little mistake, everything’s just times 10.
“It just…” she pauses, finds the correct word, then starts again, “hurts sometimes.”
She’s not wrong.
Even when a player might love Pinehurst No. 2, there’s a chance Donald Ross’s masterpiece may not love you back. Even for Anna Morgan, a runner-up and a semifinalist in the Women’s North & South Amateur who might be playing this event for the last time.
She had a 1-up lead on Katherine Schuster when the pair came to the 18th tee in the Round of 32 on Thursday. But Morgan missed her tee shot right of the fairway into the native area. Now, sometimes, a player can be left with a clean lie on sandy hardpan, enough to get some spin on the ball. Or, it can be what Morgan found.
“No bueno,” she said.
Behind the ball? Fine. Right in front of it? One of those wire grass bushes.
“All I had to do was put it in the fairway, and unfortunately I was not able to do so,” Morgan said of her tee shot. “And, you play it as it lies out here, and it wasn’t the best of lies.
“We didn’t really know how it was going to come out. It was really one of those hit and hope shots.”
Hope sometimes ends in the bunker fronting the 18th green, leading to a bogey and extra holes. After a nice tee shot on the par-4 1st, Morgan looked away in disgust as her approach from 115 yards was left and short of the pin, some 30 feet away.
“I was still thinking about it on the first (playoff) hole,” Morgan admitted. “I just felt like I had made too many mistakes coming in, and Kat’s a great player who’s going to capitalize when that happens. And that made it a long match.”
Morgan collected herself by the second playoff hole, striking her approach to 9 feet and making birdie to advance to Friday’s Round of 16.
“Still hanging around. Still in it,” she said. “But I think I need to head to the range.”
Morgan, the most experienced North & South player left in the field after 2022 runner-up Megan Schofill failed to advance Thursday, will now face medalist and top-seeded Ashley Menne. The Arizona State senior made a deft up and down from the bunker right of the 18th green to close out her match against Florida’s Maisie Filler.
“I hit a really good shot in, and I thought it held the green, but it didn’t,” Menne said. “A lot of the pins were on slopes and the greens were definitely faster. But being in the bunker, I think, actually saved me. It made the shot way easier for me to get up and down and close.”
After overcoming very long rounds to top the field in stroke play on Tuesday and Wednesday, Menne was first off on Thursday morning and finished by 10:30 a.m. Even in a grueling, tightly contested match, it was a welcome respite.
“I’m so glad to be the first ones off, and just being done and out of the sun,” she said. “Looking forward to relaxing a bit. It’s awesome.”
Sophie Zhang-Murphy, clad in her pink panda cap, hits a tee shot on Pinehurst No. 2. (Photo by John Patota)Sophie Zhang-Murphy, clad in her pink panda cap, hits a tee shot on Pinehurst No. 2. (Photo by John Patota)
No one looked more relaxed on No. 2 than, ironically, Zhang-Murphy. She made three birdies in the first six holes, hitting two approaches within 6 feet, and led 7-up through nine holes. She held on for a comfortable 4&3 win over Anika Varma. It was, along with Emma McMyler, the most lopsided match victory of the day, but one that was never close. So, what gives?
Maybe it’s the hat.
Zhang-Murphy, it turns out, may be as superstitious as she is polite. She started playing golf around 6 or 7 years old. At about the same time, she picked up a pink hat with a panda face on it. She got it when visiting the panda research base near with her grandparents near their home in Chengdu, China.
“I just never stopped wearing it,” Zhang-Murphy said. “I’ve had it since I’ve pretty much started golfing.
“I always wear it. It’s become superstitious.”
The cap has gone through a few minor alterations, most notably the Callaway logos on each side.
“When I became sponsored by Callaway, they wanted me to wear a Callaway hat,” said the Princeton sophomore. “And so, we actually shipped the hat to Callaway, and they added the logos. That was really nice of them.”
Nice, indeed. It fits the player.
ABOUT THE North & South Women's Amateur
The Women's North & South has drawn the top
amateur women from around the country. Three
rounds of stroke play followed by four rounds of
match play will determine the Champion.
The 96 player field will be cut to a 16 player
match play field and medalist honors. All stroke
match play rounds will be contested on Pinehurst
No. 2. The top 16 players who qualify for match
play will play two rounds a day until our
Nine of the last 12 North & South Women’s
Amateur champions have drawn paychecks as
members of the LPGA Tour. The equation is near
perfect. Win the North & South Am, go on to
professional success at the highest level.
North & South champions are among the legends
of the game: Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs,
Kirk Bell, Hollis Stacey, Brandie Burton, Brittany
Lang, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng.
Along with the Women's North & South,
Resort & Country Club annually plays host to the
Men's North & South, the Junior North & South,
and Senior Men's and Senior Women's North &
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