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Irish amateur Áine Donegan defies late clubs and a smashed driver to star at US Women’s Open

<i>Ezra Shaw/Getty Images</i><br/>Maguire plays her shot from the seventh tee.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Maguire plays her shot from the seventh tee.

By Jack Bantock, CNN

(CNN) — Making her major and LPGA Tour debut at one of the world’s most iconic venues, Irish amateur golfer Áine Donegan probably anticipated a hectic week at the US Women’s Open.

But even she couldn’t have predicted just how much drama was in store for her at California’s Pebble Beach course.

The 21-year-old rookie made a stunning start at the 78th edition of the major, shooting three-under 69 to trail leading duo Xiyu Janet Lin and Kim Hyo-joo by one shot at the close of Thursday’s first round.

Donegan, the world’s 144th ranked amateur, rebounded from a back-to-back bogey start with an eagle and five birdies to leapfrog the majority of a star-studded 156-player field that includes 12 former champions.

Yet the Louisiana State University junior’s preparations for the tournament were disrupted after her clubs arrived late – and one of them broken – to Pebble Beach on Tuesday.

A tweet posted by the Irish golfer showed the head of her driver completely snapped off, forcing her to practice and then compete with a replacement club supplied at short notice by manufacturer Ping.

Not an ideal development after a grueling 30-hour commute from Dublin to San Francisco, but – with a few words of wisdom from coach Gary Madden – Donegan stayed composed.

“It was a little bit frustrating but Gary said, ‘don’t let this be another distraction,” she told reporters Thursday.

At the end of the day there is nothing you can do about it. There is no point stressing because it’s not going to change anything, that was how we looked at it.”

Her 15th hole eagle – which saw a 96-yard approach drop straight in – proved the highlight of a memorable day navigating Pebble Beach’s iconic links course.

Having played a practice round with her idol and golf “G.O.A.T,” 10-time major winning Swede Annika Sörenstam on Tuesday, Donegan’s wait to wake up from her dream goes on.

“The whole thing has been a bit surreal to be honest,” Donegan said.

“Nearly every five minutes it’s like a pinch-me movement. Even just walking to the putting green and young girls asking for autographs and stuff. It’s like, ‘that was me.’ And to do it at a place like Pebble Beach is something I’ll never forget.

“Played 18 holes with Annika, and honestly, one of the best days of my life … she was just as nice to me and my parents as she is to probably every other professional on the tour.”

It continues a great week and year for Irish women’s golf, with Donegan’s compatriot Leona Maguire level in the group of six players tied for second after the opening round.

At world No. 10, Maguire is playing the best golf of her career. Triumph at the Meijer LPGA Classic in June sealed her second LPGA Tour victory, and her eighth top-10 finish in her last 14 starts.

A first major title looked to be within striking distance later that month when Maguire led the Women’s PGA Championship by a shot heading into the final 18 holes, but a frustrating three-over 74 final round saw the 28-year-old finish four shots adrift of champion Ruoning Yin.

“It’s golf, these things happen,” Maguire told reporters Thursday.

“I think you have to get on with things pretty quickly, dust yourself off. Still a fantastic week even if Sunday didn’t go my way.

“When you’ve got another major coming up as quick as this was and at somewhere like Pebble, I think your focus shifts pretty quickly. Looking forward to another opportunity this week hopefully.”

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