Anticipation builds for the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur
Augusta National/Brent Cline
Virginia Elena Carta is a senior at Duke University wrapping up her degree in Environmental Sciences and Policy, which makes it safe to say she knows all about doing her homework. Not surprisingly, the 2016 NCAA individual champion set aside time in the last few weeks to prepare for one of the biggest exams of her life (golf edition)—the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. But rather than just logging extra hours on the putting green back in Durham, N.C., Carta has been preparing in quite the millennial fashion, firing up her computer and binge watching old TV shows on YouTube.
We’ll let her explain.
“I’ve never been to Augusta National and never really watched the Masters before,” said the 22-year-old native of Italy. “So I never really knew about the course. But they have videos of the final rounds on the Internet, so I started watching them to get an understanding of what the course is like. It’s been fun, although I’m not really sure what to expect.”
Nor is anybody else, actually. With the most anticipated debut of a golf tournament in decades beginning in earnest on Wednesday, many compelling questions regarding the ANWA remain unanswered. How will one of the world’s most historic courses play when the world’s top female amateurs attempt to make history of their own? Competitors will tee it up from a version of Augusta National’s members tees playing 6,365 yards. But will the greens be as speedy as they are a week later when the Masters is played? And where will the scores fall? Plus, what will it be like for contenders to have the competition pause for a day mid-tournament? How will nerves factor into the entire affair for the entire 72-player field that will christen the championship?
The unknowns add their own intrigue to an already exciting event.
“I think that’s what’s one of the trickiest parts here,” said Mexico’s Maria Fassi, a senior at Arkansas who is No. 9 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. “We’re all so excited about having the opportunity to play at Augusta, but we’re also supposed to be competing out there. Once I’m there, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem. I think it will be all about business when I’m on the golf course. But in between shots, and before and after, I’ll make sure to enjoy just the opportunity of being at Augusta National.”
Can you blame the players for letting their minds wander? Ever since Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley announced the creation of the event during his first press conference in charge of the Masters last April, qualifying for the ANWA has been a goal for most of the game’s elite (the top 30 Americans on the World Amateur Golf Ranking at the end of 2018 earned invitations along with the top 30 International players and winners of select elite women’s amateur competitions).
The championship became even more real in January when participants received their official invitations. “I opened it and was like ‘Wow, this is actually happening, isn’t it?’” said Dylan Kim, a teammate of Fassi’s at Arkansas.
Even retired Hall of Fame golfers have been daydreaming about the competition.
“When the announcement was made, I got chills immediately,” recalled Nancy Lopez. “I thought this is so awesome. How can I become an amateur?”
Adam Hunger/Getty Images
The 62-year-old LPGA legend is a believer in the potential of the ANWA to have a lasting impact on the women’s game. And while she won’t be a competitor, she’s excited about her own unique participation in the event. Lopez, along with Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Se Ri Pak, will take part in a special first-tee ceremony during the final round, creating their own tradition of honorary starters for the women’s event.
“I’ve done a lot of interviews and I’ve gotten kind of emotional because I’m thinking about how far we’ve come to grow women’s golf, and to see this makes me really proud to see this happening,” Lopez said. “And Augusta, they’re the best. They couldn’t have made it more perfect to have these amateurs play because they really want to grow the game. And I want to grow the game. So I think this is tremendous what they’ve done here. I’m very excited.”
Carter agrees that the event can serve as a catalyst for women’s golf, which makes her participation something she is savoring even more. “Regardless of how you perform, to think that you can say you were part of the very first playing is very special,” Carta said. “I hope this can really be something that inspires girls to play the game.”
“I just want to soak up every moment of the experience,” said Sierra Brooks, a junior at the University of Florida who will have her dad, Brent, caddie for her throughout the week. “It’s definitely been something that’s been motivating us throughout the [college] season.”
Like most of the college players in the field, Brooks said her preparation hasn’t been much different than what she would ordinarily do in the spring as the college season rolls on. Playing in regular competitions over the past two months has helped keep her game sharp and kept her from thinking too much about the trip to Augusta.
Players are expected to arrive on Monday and can attend a gathering that night (a formal “Chairman’s Dinner” is schedule for Tuesday evening). An official practice round will be played on Tuesday at nearby Champions Retreat, where the first two rounds of the 54-hole tournament will be played there on Wednesday and Thursday. The low 30 players will make the cut and advance to the final round, which will be held at Augusta National.
But before that, ANWA takes an unusual twist. To allow all participants the chance to play Augusta National at least once, Friday will be an off day from competition, with the entire field being allowed to play a practice round on the famed course. The championship then resumes on Saturday, with the final round broadcast on NBC.
For all the talk about the long-term impact of the event, there are short-term implications as well. The fact that nearly the entire field remains among the top 100 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking is something not lost on the players.
“It’s probably going to be the strongest amateur field I’ve ever play against,” said Carta, a finalist in the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur. “I’m excited to see how I do.”
“I’m trying to keep it in mind it’s one golf tournament,” said Jaravee Boonchant, a teammate of Carta’s at Duke who is also in the ANWA field. “It’s a big tournament and it means a lot, but at the same time I’m trying to just keep it like any tournament that you play.”
Suffice it to say, that will be easier said than done.