UNC's O'Donnell shares U.S. Open spotlight with Li

Jun. 19, 2014 @ 07:48 PM

Catherine O’Donnell noticed the unusually large gallery and the multiple cameras popping photos of her playing group on the first tee at 7:07 a.m. Thursday on Pinehurst No.2

It’s O’Donnell’s first time playing the U.S. Women’s Open golf tournament, but all the fuss was for another Open newcomer who is half the former UNC golfer’s age.

Lucy Li, the 11-year-old from California, joined O’Donnell and Canada’s Jessica Wallace for their opening round in the tournament.

Li and O’Donnell shot identical scores of 78, leaving them both 8-over par entering Friday’s second round.

“She's way better than I was expecting,” O’Donnell said. “She's a great player. She hits it out there farther than I was expecting to. She hit it by me twice, I wasn't really happy about that. But, no, she's -- I mean she's a joy to play with, too. Couldn't have been nicer. Very intelligent girl. And Jess and I just had a great time playing with her today.”

The group started their round on the 10th hole. While Li had two double-bogeys and was 5-over par after her first seven holes, O’Donnell birdied her first hole and was even par after seven holes.

But as play slowed on the group’s back nine (holes 1-9) due to groups in front of them, O’Donnell’s scoring suffered.

“We waited a really long time on 5 tee and after that I really struggled to get back into my rhythm,” said O’Donnell, a four-time, all-ACC player at UNC who graduated in 2012.

O’Donnell finished at par on No. 5 before hitting a rough patch. She bogeyed the sixth and seventh holes and had a triple-bogey 7 on the par-4 No. 8 hole.

“I’m such a rhythm player that it really screwed me up,” O’Donnell said. “But I need to get better at it, obviously.”

Current Duke golfer Celine Boutier and former Duke All-American Brittany Lang teed off in the afternoon groups. O’Donnell is the lone player with UNC ties in the tournament and that’s just fine with her.

“I'm proud to be the only Tar Heel out here, that's okay,” O’Donnell said. “I had a really big group following me today. All my coaches and some of my former teammates were out here. And I felt a huge amount of support. That was really nice.”