U.S. Women’s Open Cinderella starts run. Then tumbles after quintuple bogey

Amateur Áine Donegan of the Republic of Ireland reacts after finding her ball in an unplayable lie on the second hole during the second round of the 78th U.S. Women's Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on July 07, 2023 in Pebble Beach, California.

Pebble Beach's 8th wasn't kind to Áine Donegan.

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Irish Amateur Áine Donegan was putting together a wonderful Cinderella run toward the top of the U.S. Women’s Open leaderboard.

Until she got to one of Pebble Beach’s most famous holes.

Donegan, a junior at LSU, opened the year’s third LPGA major as a surprise contender after a 69 Thursday that had her a shot off the lead in a tie for third. She backed up just a bit toward the end of her second round Friday and posted a 76, but was still the lowest of the four amateurs to make the cut at one over.

Perhaps more impressively, she did it with several replacement clubs after her sticks arrived late — with some destroyed by the airlines.

Saturday, she started with a flurry, escaping trouble expertly on the first when she manufactured a low cut from the right trees to just six feet.

She added more birdies at 4 and 6 and was suddenly back in a tie for fifth at two under. Donegan appeared to be in trouble again after her tee shot bounced over the firm 7th green and settled on the back lip of a bunker.

The 21-year-old, who grew up playing Lahinch, one of the best courses in Ireland, handled the awkward pitch with class across the green and then poured in the 10-footer for par.

However, it only took Donegan one hole Saturday to learn how Pebble’s iconic stretch of 8, 9 and 10 earned the nickname “The Cliffs of Doom.”

After putting her tee shot into the fairway on the dramatic par-4 8th, Donegan sized up the intimidating second shot that plays over a 100-plus-yard chasm of the Pacific Ocean. Even playing downwind, but quartering from the left, toward the ocean, the 8th was the toughest hole on the course during the third round and to that point hadn’t given up a birdie.

From 190 yards, Donegan took her swing and watched helplessly as her ball caught the wind and kept sailing farther and farther right. It landed right of the greenside bunker and disappeared into Carmel Bay.

From the drop zone, which offered a similar shot, no less intimidating but from 175, her fourth shot was no better. This time her ball bounced around the hazard line but caromed down into the rocks once again.

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“Just a shock to the system,” NBC Sports’ Dan Hicks said on the broadcast.

“It’s just truly deflating,” added analyst Morgan Pressel.

Finally, Donegan’s third attempt, her sixth shot, made it over the gorge but stopped just short of the green. After a chip and two putts, it was a momentum-crushing 9 for the young amateur.

“She really needs to settle herself down here,” Pressel said as Donegan attempted to limit the damage to just an 8. “This is a time when everything just starts to go quicker. You start to walk faster. Hit the ball faster. Your brain starts moving a million miles an hour.”

Donegan did settle down and rebound with pars at the difficult 9th and 10th holes and eventually made her fourth birdie of the day on 15 to bring her to three over for the championship and back into the top 20.

Jack Hirsh

Golf.com Editor

Jack Hirsh is an assistant editor at GOLF. A Pennsylvania native, Jack is a 2020 graduate of Penn State University, earning degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. He was captain of his high school golf team and recently returned to the program to serve as head coach. Jack also still *tries* to remain competitive in local amateurs. Before joining GOLF, Jack spent two years working at a TV station in Bend, Oregon, primarily as a Multimedia Journalist/reporter, but also producing, anchoring and even presenting the weather. He can be reached at jack.hirsh@golf.com.