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Sport: Pilar Echeverria's North & South run the latest adventure in an unexpected summer

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Pilar Echeverria loves how measurable this game is. The team name on her golf bag at the North & South Women’s Amateur this week in Pinehurst, North Carolina, doesn’t matter nearly as much as the 30-foot slider putt she made for birdie on No. 11, the approach she hit to 12 feet at No. 12 or the five consecutive holes she ultimately won on the back nine at Pinehurst No. 2 to put away opponent Amari Avery in the first round of match play.

a woman holding a bat on a field © Provided by Golfweek

“I putted really good,” Echeverria said of her Thursday play. “I wasn’t hitting the ball really good but I was scrambling well. As long as you’re making the putts, you’ll be fine.”

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Echeverria, who just finished her fourth year at the University of Indianapolis, was the final player to make it through to the second round of match play at the North & South Women’s Amateur on Thursday. After a tight front nine against Avery, Echeverria built a lead the California-based teen couldn’t overcome. On Friday morning, Echeverria return to face Michigan State’s Haylin Harris.

Scores: North & South Women’s Amateur

Among the 16 women left on the North & South bracket – all college players (including one incoming freshman) – Echeverria is the only one not at a Power 5 school. She’s the only NCAA Division II player, and she’s also the only four-time First-Team All-American. Back in Indianapolis, everyone knows her.

“She’s one of the most popular kids on campus,” Indy head coach Brent Nicoson said. “She’s going to go down as one of the most successful athletes at our school.”

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Echeverria is playing the historic women’s amateur event for the first time this week. It didn’t take her long to fall in love with Pinehurst. The last time she was here as a 15-year-old, she got on Pine Needles. Pinehurst No. 2 has been a new and welcome challenge.

This week marks the start of a long stretch of summer tournaments on her way back to Indianapolis for a fifth year. She’ll play the Women’s Western Amateur next week (after finishing in the top 10 there last year), take a week off and then arrive in Rockville, Maryland, for the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

At No. 65 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Echeverria easily got into the U.S. Women’s Amateur based on her ranking. The USGA guaranteed the top 75 players a spot, but she only found about that when a friend called her excitedly the day the USGA released its new exemption categories.

“I was very happy,” she said.

This will be Echeverria’s first start in the event since 2018.

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Echeverria, who grew up in Guatemala, wasn’t planning on spending her summer this way. When the pandemic set in earlier this spring, the airport back home closed before she could get out of the country. Echeverria stayed in her apartment in Indianapolis, without a car to get around but with plenty of friends in her adopted hometown. She hasn’t seen her parents since winter break, but if her mother can get to the Midwest for a visit soon, she will.

Until then, Echeverria will keep playing golf. She’s currently traveling with a friend from Guatemala. At the Women’s Western, her boyfriend will caddie for her before handing over the bag to Indianapolis assistant coach Kacey Dalpes for the Women’s Am.

At Pinehurst this week Echeverria has had to be careful about remembering where she is.

“Three months I’ve been tapping in with one hand or just picking up the ball when it’s 3 feet away,” she said. “Getting back into that competition mode.”

There was never any question, once the NCAA made a fifth year available to student-athletes, that she would complete that at Indy. Echeverria wants to play professionally, and there are checkpoints she feels she still needs to hit before reaching that level.

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“A year ends up being nothing, it goes by pretty quick,” she said. “I feel like there’s a lot of stuff that I could still work on and prepare myself a little bit more.”

Plus, Echeverria couldn’t fathom leaving her team or Nicoson. Loyalty is important to her.

“They’ve opened so many doors and I honestly, I wasn’t that good in high school and he saw something in me that no one else saw.”

They sure can see it now.

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