In U.S. Women’s Open debut, Allison Emrey is right at home at Pine Needles

Allison Emrey reacts to her second shot on the 16th hole.
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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.

MORE U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN COVERAGE: Ingrid Lindblad breaks 18-hole amateur record

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.

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.