SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. — After Mina Harigae’s press conference Thursday evening, not long after she shot a seven-under par 64 to take a one-shot lead in the opening round of the U.S. Women’s Open, she divulged the magic behind her career-best round at the major.
“It’s gotta be the Dior shoes, for sure,” Harigae said, laughing.
The Jordan Brand aficionado received a pair of custom Jordan Diors from her agent, Alex Guerrero, during a practice round on Tuesday afternoon at Pine Needles Golf Club. The gesture was the result of the 32-year-old’s year-long journey with the brand.
Guerrero primarily works with professional male athletes and is used to his clients receiving free products. So, he sent a note to Jordan Brand explaining that Harigae had felt comfortable playing in Jordan ADG golf shoes during U.S. Women’s Open qualifying last year. From there, Jordan started a relationship with Harigae, while she and her fiancé and caddie, Travis Kreiter, became full-blown Jordan sneakerheads.
“I got about 10 new pairs in the last like two months,” Harigae said Thursday. “But Travis has way more.”
Kreiter said he has about 50-60 pairs of shoes, but the new Diors are his favorite because of their exclusivity. Guerrero ordered a pair of Jordan 1 lows and sent them to shoe artist Tyler Liber so he could customize them for the couple. The gift acknowledges how far they’ve come in the last year, over a decade since Harigae made her U.S. Women’s Open debut at Pine Needles Golf Club in 2007 at just 17 years old.
“Feeling wanted and loved is half the battle in this game,” Guerrero said.
The couple received the shoes Tuesday after a delayed redeye flight out of Phoenix pushed their arrival time back a day. Instead of worrying, they focused on what they needed to do to prepare for Day 1.
Krieter walked the opening eight holes to scout the renovated Pine Needles track, and Harigae practiced.
“In my eyes, a lot of times it’s easy to get stressed at majors,” Kreiter said. “The longer you’re here, the worse it is sometimes.”
Taking the lead in style! 💥@minaharigae chips in to move to 7-under at the #USWomensOpen pic.twitter.com/PCwThwHUg8— LPGA (@LPGA) June 2, 2022
Taking the lead in style! 💥@minaharigae chips in to move to 7-under at the #USWomensOpen pic.twitter.com/PCwThwHUg8
On the range, they recognized the gap in distance between Harigae’s driver and three-wood might be too much for the week. So they worked with Harigae’s club sponsor, PXG’s club representative Scotty Kim, to tweak her three-wood setup. They tried out four separate shafts before deciding to increase her shaft length from 43 to 43.5 inches, and switch out her Ventus Blue shaft to a Ventus Red shaft to maximize height and carry.
“Because Mina has great tempo, I thought that she would be able to manage the slightly longer club length,” Kim wrote in a text.
With the changes, Harigae increased her ball speed, peak height and total distance without relinquishing any control. On Wednesday, Harigae got her first taste of the course after its 2021 renovation, playing the final 10 holes for the first time in 15 years when she finished T-66 at the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open.
The three-wood adjustments gave Harigae a boost right away on Thursday afternoon. Her second shot on the first hole, a 507-yard par-5, sat 224 yards away from the front. Instead of leaving an awkward 20-yard pitch shot, Harigae hit her three wood and ended up 4 yards from the front of the green. The Monterey, Calif. native chipped it to within 8 feet of the cup with a bump-and-run sand wedge, setting her up to make her first of nine birdies during the round.
“I do that a ton,” Harigae said when asked about not playing all 18 holes before the first round. “I think it’s just more keeping the ball in front of me, picking conservative-ish targets and not going at pins.
“Honestly, any golf course, any tournament, as long you hit it where Travis tells me to go, I feel like I’m good to go.”
Harigae slotted in PXG’s “Hercules” model during the Bank of Hope LPGA match play last week, which Kreiter received the Friday before the Las Vegas tournament. Kreiter recalled the last time Harigae used his putter, she finished in second place at the 2021 Marathon Classic.
“You can steal my putter as long as you keep making birdies,” Kreiter joked.
They polished off their preparations by having her hold her putter more level, which led to more consistency on the greens. On Thursday, she recorded 24 putts, her lowest total since hitting 23 in the opening round of the Honda LPGA Thailand in March.
“She’s been closer than results have shown,” Kreiter said. “Even the 12th-place finish, we didn’t make hardly anything outside of 10 feet.”
After recording her first round in the 60s at the U.S. Women’s Open in 37 rounds, the 13-year veteran heads into Friday’s round with the first 18-hole lead of her LPGA career. Harigae, however, isn’t letting herself look too far ahead. With her Jordans on, she plans to stay present on one of the grandest stages in golf.
“Just being appreciative of where I am, really taking in the moment, but at the same time, not trying to put so much precedent on how big the moment is,” Harigae said. “It’s another day on the golf course, another hole.”
Kent Paisley is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering golf and the LPGA. He also contributes to Golf Digest. Follow him on Twitter @KentPaisley.