SOUTHERN PINES — If you are looking for a hometown favorite to pull for at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, there are not really any options.
Though many players have Pinehurst ties, Pine Needles moments, and countless memories in the Sandhills of North Carolina, no golfers in this week’s field really fit the bill.
This writer was intrigued to find a player in this week’s field who one might consider a local, of sorts.
Gemma Dryburgh, 28, who hails from Aberdeen, Scotland, can certainly appreciate and connect with the Scottish roots that run so deeply in the greater Sandhills area. The most notable is the connection with the local town of Aberdeen bearing the name of her hometown.
The Moore, Richmond and Scotland county areas all share a heavy Scottish heritage dating back to as early as the 1700s when Highlanders immigrated to the area.
Pine Needles Golf and Lodge Club, the site of this year’s open, was designed by famed golf architect Donald Ross, a Scotsman who designed some of the area’s top courses back around the turn of the 1900s.
Dryburgh, who currently plays on the LPGA and European Women’s tours, relishes the opportunity to play in this week’s U.S. Women’s Open. This is her fifth major tournament start and her first U.S. Open start.
We were able to spend some time out on the range with Dryburgh and her longtime caddie, Paul Heselden, and ask them a few questions about the week ahead.
Have you ever played in this area before, if so, any good memories you can share?
Dryburgh: “We really love this area. I have so many great memories from back in the days of Q-series here, and coming with my family it just really feels like home around here.”
Heselden: “We have great memories here, I do love the area. We have worked together for the last two or three years and Pinehurst was our first event working together so it’s a very special place for us.”
Are you aware of the strong Scottish connection here in the Sandhills?
Dryburgh: “I definitely noticed some of the signs for Aberdeen, and the Donald Ross connection is well known. It kinda feels like Britain in general, not just Scotland, but a very European feel here and in the village (of Pinehurst).”
With Donald Ross being the architect of this year’s course, have you noticed a resemblance to the links-style golf courses you grew up on back in Scotland? If not, what are some key differences?
Dryburgh: “The way Donald Ross designs courses, in my opinion, is not very Scottish, really. There are more undulations and the turtle-back greens here which is much different then the flatter courses with more subtlety compared to back home. It’s tough. I think Donald likes to mess people up on the course. You don’t want to miss it in certain places.”
Have you found yourself in any tricky spots on the course so far this week?
Dryburgh: “Paul, my caddie, helps keep me in the right spots. If I miss left or right, it’s my fault — but long or short is his fault.”
Heselden: (laughing) “We refer to bad places around the course as a ‘punch-me-in-the-face area’ and I have yet to get punched in the face this week.”
This is your fifth major championship appearance and first U.S. Open appearance. Any specific goals or expectations for this week.
Dryburgh: “I have been playing quite well recently, but I believe you just have to take each shot as it comes. I am hopeful that I’ll do well and I am confident in my game as well — just gonna do one shot at a time, add it up in the end and hopefully have a good finish this week.”
Any fun nicknames for fans to cheer you on and support you this week?
“I kinda find it funny when commentators announce me as “The Scot,” but most people call me Gem or Gems.”
If you would like to follow Dryburgh or support her this week her starting tee time on Thursday will be at 7:45 a.m. off the first tee and Friday 1:03 off the 9th tee.
NOTE: Spelling corrections made 9:30 p.m. 6-2-22