Anna Morgan (John Patota Photo)
There’s something about Pinehurst that makes Anna Morgan believe.
She doesn’t go any further than that, doesn’t lay out what those beliefs might be exactly, but it isn’t difficult to discern them. She’s graduated from Furman and this is most likely her final Women’s North & South Amateur. After this summer, she’ll probably turn pro, and…well, who knows from there, right?
Who knows, indeed. But if you do the algebra, and factor in Morgan’s success in this particular championship with everything that has come before in the 121 years of playing it, the product is that belief. Future LPGA Tour pros and future major champions have won this event. Go up the list in the Heritage Hallway. Start from the bottom. You don’t have to go far. Danielle Kang. Morgan Pressel. Yani Tseng. Brittany Lang. Just last week, the North & South’s former medalist, runner-up and semifinalist, Allisen Corpuz, won the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Freaking Beach. Bailey Tardy, the 2015 North & South Champion, was fourth and led during the week.
And that’s just in the last 20 years. The century before it, women who went on to found the LPGA Tour played and won here.
At Pinehurst, the dreams become possible. They become tangible. They become real.
And for Anna Morgan, no matter what happens on Saturday, as the semifinals and the championship match are scheduled to be played with four very good and worthy players, tonight she can go ahead and begin dreaming those dreams. For the third straight year, she will play on the Women’s North & South Amateur’s final day.
“To be coming back for the third year, that in itself, I think means a lot to me, because this is arguably one of the most competitive women’s amateur tournaments in the world,” Morgan said after making putt after putt after putt to dust Sophie Zhang-Murphy 5&4 in the quarterfinals on Friday. “Honestly, to be in the top four of this event the last three years, if anything, it confirms all of the belief in myself and where my game is.”
Her game, admittedly, wasn’t there the first three days. Granted, she continued to advance, but something was off. After winning in extra holes in the Round of 32 on Thursday, she had one thought in mind.
And it paid off.
“I went to the range!” she cracked boisterously. “And I think it showed today.”
She clearly went to the practice green as well. Because on Friday, Morgan made…well, just about everything. Her 30-footer for birdie on No. 12 – 25 minutes after play was suspended momentarily for an approaching storm – put her 4-up in the match, and a knowing smile on her face.
“The putter is a friend,” she joked. “I have been so patient with it this week. I had made just two putts outside of 5 feet through yesterday, and I was like, ‘We’ve got to get something going.’ But at the same time, I felt like I’ve been hitting good putts all week. And today, some of them fell. Well, a lot of them fell, actually.
“Honestly, it felt like everything inside of 10 feet was just money.”
Before Tuesday, you might not have put money down on Sabrina Iqbal to even make the cut, let alone the semifinals. In three previous tries at the Women’s North & South, she went home early in the week, failing to make match play.
But she kept coming back. Why?
Because she was learning.
“No. 2, the more you play it, the more you learn every single time,” Iqbal said. “This year, I’ve gone into No. 2 knowing not to hit it in certain spots. Pars are great out here, and you don’t lose many holes with pars very often.”
Pars are indeed great, but she made a beautiful birdie on No. 18 to close out Justice Bosio, curling in a 13-footer with a slope behind the cup to advance to play Morgan in the first semifinal match on Saturday morning.
“Initially, I didn’t see as much break, but after seeing Justice’s putt, I figured it had to go quite a bit,” Iqbal said. “I had a good bit of steam on it, but I matched the speed and the line and it dropped.”
And her week goes on.
“I’m really proud of myself,” she said. “It’s my fourth year and I just love this tournament. I’m just trying to have fun. It’s just golf – try not to take it too seriously and put too much pressure on myself.”
Clemson’s Isabella Rawl will also be in town on Saturday – if she can find a hotel room tonight.
“Right now, we don’t have a hotel booked, so we’re going to book a hotel,” she said following her match late Friday.
Rawl made comfortable pars on Nos. 13, 14 and 16 to wear down Duke’s Emma McMyler 3&2, sticking to a gameplan that has worked beautifully throughout the week.
“Pars win out here, so I was just trying to tell myself to hit it to middle of the green,” Rawl said. “You can be aggressive sometimes, but pars will win, and that’s what happened.
“I’m fine with getting beat on a hole with a birdie. Just want to give myself opportunities and miss it in the right places. Because if you don’t, you can start playing ping pong out here.”
She’ll take on Washington State’s Madelyn Gamble, who needed 22 holes to win her Round of 16 match in the sweltering morning. Birdies at No. 15 and 16 were enough to get her by Purdue’s Momo Sugiyama and on to another day. It is Gamble’s first appearance in the Women’s North & South Amateur.
“I just kept looking at as I’m playing Pinehurst No. 2, and I get to keep playing it,” a smiling Gamble said of her long day.
She’ll face Rawl in the second semifinal – after a night of rest.
“I’m feeling great” she said. “I’m pretty tired, but I’ve dreamt of being here.”
What the day has in store to conclude the North & South is anyone’s guess. One player had never made match play and now could win the whole thing. Another needs to find a place to stay. One – winningly, it should be said – played 39 holes under oppressive North Carolina humidity and afternoon thunder.
The other, like the rest, has her entire future ahead of her. Her’s is just a lot more immediate.
“It would be one of the most meaningful days of mine,” Morgan said, allowing herself to believe, just for the briefest of moments, to wonder what if.
Then she went to play a round on Thistle Dhu, the 18-hole putting course at Pinehurst.