Fifteen years ago, as a 17-year-old amateur, Mina Harigae made her debut in the U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club. While the week ended with a disappointing final-round 80, Harigae would use that experience to help her win the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links title a few weeks later and play on a victorious USA Curtis Cup Team the following year.
Now 32 and a longtime veteran of the LPGA Tour, Harigae is back in the North Carolina Sandhills as one of nine players in this year’s U.S. Women’s Open field to have competed in that 2007 championship.
If Thursday’s opening round in sweltering conditions is any indicator, her finish this time will be a lot better than a tie for 66th.
The Monterey, Calif., native, who is making her 12th start in the championship, fired a 7-under-par 64 over the 6,600-yard, par-71 Donald Ross layout late in the day to upstage a record amateur performance by Ingrid Lindblad. It was Harigae’s first sub-70 score in 37 championship rounds, and she entered the week a cumulative 127 over par.
Her 64 also was one stroke off the 18-hole championship record held by Helen Alfredsson (1994), who won the 2019 U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Pine Needles in 2019. Five others had posted 64s, the last coming from Mirim Lee six years ago at CordeValle.
Battling temperatures that reached into the 90s, Harigae, a three-time winner on the Symetra Tour (now Epson Tour) went out in 5-under 30 before adding four birdies – against two bogeys – on the inward nine. That included a chip-in 2 on the 164-yard 16th hole.
“I was just really calm out there,” said Harigae, who spent one semester at Duke University in 2008 before turning pro in early 2009. “Could be because of the heat. I didn't want to expend too much energy, so I was basically in the zone.
On Wednesday, Harigae’s caddie, Travis Kreiter, spent some time helping her adjust her putting grip and the result was 24 putts, which led the field.
A few hours earlier, Lindblad, 22, of Sweden, the No. 2 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking®, also put on a dazzling display on the greens, needing just 26 putts in shooting a sizzling 6-under-par 65, the lowest round ever by an amateur in the U.S. Women’s Open. An All-American at Louisiana State University, where she just completed her junior year, Lindblad bested the amateur mark of 66 previously held by seven-time USGA champion Carol Semple Thompson (1994), two-time major champion Brittany Lincicome (2004) and current LPGA Tour rookie Gina Kim (2019), who was the low amateur in this championship three years ago at the Country Club of Charleston.
Lindblad played a near-flawless round, registering six birdies against one bogey (par-5 10th), which came on her second hole of the day following a birdie on No. 9. The 2022 Southeastern Conference individual champion arrived at Pine Needles fresh off a tie for third in the NCAA Division I Championship 10 days ago in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Lindblad, making her second U.S. Women’s Open start, has positioned herself for a run at history. Only one amateur has hoisted the Harton S. Semple Trophy, and interestingly enough, it was a fellow European, Catherine Lacoste of France (1967).
“I was at the amateur reception [Tuesday night] and they said that just one amateur has won it,” said Lindblad, who played alongside fellow Swede and three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Annika Sorenstam and 2011 champ So Yeon Ryu. “I know Megha [Ganne] played really good last year, and I know Maja [Stark] also from Sweden has played really good like two years in a row. Yeah, it's possible.”
Plenty of accomplished players are right on the heels of Harigae and Lindblad, including two major winners from 2021, Minjee Lee (Evian) and Anna Nordqvist (AIG Women’s British Open), both of whom carded 4-under 67s. Ryann O’Toole, who broke through for her first LPGA Tour win last summer at the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open, also carded a 67.
Lexi Thompson, who came up a stroke shy of the playoff last year at The Olympic Club, was three back after a 68. She was joined at that number by Ally Ewing, while world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, 2017 champion Sung Hyun Park, major champion Sei Young Kim, and 2020 runner-up Amy Olson were among 10 players to post 2-under 69.
Round 2 of stroke play will take place on Friday with the low 60 and ties qualifying for the weekend. Peacock (1-3 p.m. EDT) and USA Network (3-8 p.m.) will have live coverage.
“I don't remember much about 2007. Only thing I remembered was the [practice] putting green, the first hole, and the last hole (laughing). But I'm really happy to be back here in North Carolina being a big [Michael] Jordan fan, so just kind of going off the Jordan vibes. Must be the shoes, right?” – first-round leader Mina Harigae, whose fiancé/caddie Travis Kreiter collects Jordan Brand sneakers
“I did a little bit more [practice] on the speed of the greens. Did a lot more lag putts. You're going to have putts that are long around here. Just to get the speed right I think is really important, so that's what I did most of.” – Minjee Lee (4-under 67) on her prep for the championship
“I definitely would say majors get my adrenaline going a little bit differently than some of the other courses. I feel like a lot of courses we play are not so penalizing when you're a little bit offline. Certainly not around the greens. That's why I like the way the major sets up. You don't necessarily have to shoot 20 under to win.” – Anna Nordqvist, a two-time major champion, after opening with a 4-under 67
“I'm from Florida. I'm used to the heat. I'd rather be sweating than freezing. I'm definitely used to it, but I drank a water every hole or two holes to stay hydrated.” – Lexi Thompson (3-under 68) on playing in the stifling heat
“I'm trying not to make it 200-something starts before another one.” – Ryann O’Toole (4-under 67) when asked about her lone LPGA Tour win a year ago, which came in her 228th start
“What a nice warming welcome here at Pine Needles. It was nice to see Donna [Andrews] … I played against Donna, so it was great to have her as the [ninth-tee] starter. I was teeing off first, and she said, ‘One more minute.’ It was probably one of the longest minutes ever. I was like, I'm ready now. Looking at my [two] kids, they had the microphone on and I was wondering if something inappropriate would come out. But it was great, really nice.” – three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Annika Sorenstam on returning to the championship after a 14-year hiatus
“It was pretty special since I'm the only player from North Carolina [in the field]. It is just so special to be back in Pinehurst and to play Pine Needles, which I played a million times growing up.” – Allison Emrey (even-par 71), of Charlotte, who had the honor of hitting the opening tee shot off No. 1 on Thursday
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.