Allison Emrey wasn’t sure if it was on purpose or a simple twist of fate that had the 29-year-old Wake Forest alum hitting the first tee shot off the No. 1 tee Thursday morning, kicking off the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open.
But either way, the lone North Carolina native in the 156-player field enjoyed the honors at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, where she carded an even-par 71 and finished the day T-28, seven shots behind leader Mina Harigae, who posted a 7-under 64.
“It was pretty special,” said Emrey, who teed off at 7:15 a.m. in her tournament debut with South Africa’s Nicole Garcia (73 on Thursday) and Florida amateur Lauren Miller (80). “I was wondering if they meant to do that since I’m the only player from North Carolina.
“It’s just so special to be back in Pinehurst and to play Pine Needles, which I played a million times growing up.”
First-tee jitters may have gotten the best of the 28-year-old Charlotte native, who opened with a bogey but quickly bounced back with a birdie at No. 2. She combated another bogey at seventh with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 9 and 10 and dropped one more bogey at 17 before finishing with a par.
“I’m happy with the start,” said Emery, who was an All-American during her four years at Wake Forest. “I would’ve liked to have made a few more putts, but I felt like I went into the day with a great game plan and executed real well, so I’m excited for (Friday).”
Emrey is in her second full season on the LPGA, first earning her card in 2018 and regaining her status for 2022 via an eighth-place finish on the Epson Tour’s 2021 “Race for the Card” money list. She seized on “home court” advantage to qualify for her first U.S. Women’s Open, advancing to Pine Needles as the first alternate out of the Southern Pines (N.C.) qualifier at nearby Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club in early May.
“I think I just love being home and love being used to the conditions I grew up on, and just the history in Pinehurst,” said Emery, who won the 2009 North & South Girls Junior at Pinehurst Resort.
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Pine Needles is hosting the U.S. Women’s Open for a record fourth time, where Annika Sorenstam won in 1996, followed by Karrie Webb in 2001 and Cristie Kerr in 2007. Pine Needles has hosted six previous USGA championships, marking the second-highest total in North Carolina after Pinehurst Resort’s famed Course No. 2.
However, Emrey noted that she last played Pine Needles as a junior in a 2010 AJGA event, battling massive rains to shoot rounds of 74-75-76 and finish third.
“I have never played in more rain in my life,” she added with a laugh. “The entire day it rained, but we had a blast.”
Thursday was a decidedly different scenario, with sunny skies and temperatures reaching well into the 90s. Emrey said she was “just trying to take it all in and enjoy” the round, but she also admitted to keeping her blinders on for most of the way around Pine Needles.
“I just tried to keep my head down, which sounds funny, but just to not think about all the fans and the noise,” said Emery, who has made two cuts in seven starts this season with a best finish of T-16 at the JTBC Classic in March.
Of course, Emrey couldn’t help but notice her gallery of family and friends, which swelled to nearly 50 people as she made her way down 18.
“Just seeing everybody here to support me – I think it’s really nice,” she added. “A lot of my family and friends made a two-hour drive from Charlotte, so I think just to see how many people came out to support was really nice.”
As for being the lone North Carolinian in the field, Emrey said she’s happy to fly the flag for her home state.
“I thought there would be more, so I’m a little disappointed that I’m the only one,” she said. “But I’m happy to have the honor to be here.”
How to watch the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open:
The 77th U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club continues through Sunday, June 5, with complete coverage on NBC Sports. Golf Channel also will air “Live from the U.S. Women’s Open,” featuring live pre- and post-event coverage, daily through Sunday.
Friday: 1-3 p.m. on Peacock; 3-8 p.m. on USA.
Saturday: 12-1 p.m. on Peacock; 1-3 on USA; 3-6 on NBC.
Sunday: 1-3 on USA; 3-7 on NBC.