It has been three years since Jennifer Kupcho hit the first tee shot of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Three days after her historic tee shot, Kupcho made history again. Rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt on Augusta National’s 18th hole, Kupcho won the inaugural event, edging out Maria Fassi. In front of thousands of spectators, the week before the 2019 Masters Tournament, won by Tiger Woods, Kupcho and the other women in the field made history as the first group of women to play a tournament at the famed course.

Now, three years later, the third edition of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur takes place with 72 of the best women amateurs from 23 countries competing over 54 holes of stroke play. For the first 36 holes, the field will compete at Champions Retreat Golf Club, after which a cut will take place to the leading 30 players. The entire field of 72 will play a practice round at Augusta National Golf Club on Friday before the top 30 players compete in the final round Saturday.

If the 2019 and 2021 editions — COVID-19 forced the postponement of the 2020 event — of the ANWA were any indication of what’s to expect this week at Augusta, it’s to expect the unexpected and don’t count out any of the women until the final putt drops.

Here are five things to watch for this week:

Demon Deacons back for another victory

There are 35 colleges represented in this year’s ANWA field. It might seem like all eyes are on Stanford, which leads the way with five current players and one future commit competing this week, including current world No. 1 Rose Zhang and No. 3 Rachel Heck. But if history tells us anything, it’s that we should be paying attention to Wake Forest. In 2019, former Wake Forest star Kupcho exemplified just what the Demon Deacons could do on a big stage like Augusta, after she won the inaugural tournament. Two years later, Wake Forest senior Emilia Migliaccio battled it out with 17-year-old Tsubasa Kajitani of Japan in a sudden-death playoff. Kajitani won, with Migliaccio second.

This year, junior Rachel Kuehn, freshman Carolina Lopez-Chacarra, junior Lauren Walsh and grad-student Migliaccio will represent Wake Forest.

After receiving her third invitation to the ANWA, Migliaccio said on her Instagram: “Not only am I representing all the young girls and women who hope to be here one day, but I’m also representing Wake Forest University, a school that has treated me so well over my undergraduate and graduate years.”

For Kuehn, there’s no greater feeling than going to Augusta with her teammates.

“My team has become my best friends,” Kuehn told ESPN. “We make each other better players and better people. We are always pushing each other and holding each other accountable. To get to experience Augusta together is an incredible opportunity, and it’s really what we’ve been working towards.

“Hopefully someone will be able to win again this year.”

Preparation starts at Drive, Chip and Putt

The opportunity to compete at Augusta National is something that most people only dream about, let alone actually live out. But for seven players in this year’s field, including Stanford commit Megha Ganne and Arizona State’s Ashley Menne, their dreams of competing at Augusta National started a few years ago during the annual Drive, Chip and Putt competitions held just before the Masters.

Some 80 boys and girls under the age of 15, separated into eight divisions, compete in a series of competitions, including best drives, closest chips and nearest putts. Not only are seven former finalists competing this year at the ANWA, but three women who won their age divisions as national champions will be playing: Savannah Grewal, Alexa Pano and Yana Wilson.

For 17-year-old and two-time Drive, Chip and Putt champion Pano, this will be her third appearance in the ANWA and fifth appearance at Augusta National. Two years ago, Pano said that Augusta National was her “happiest place on Earth.”

Don’t forget about Ingrid Lindblad

It’s wild that the No. 2-ranked player in the world could be overshadowed by others, but that seems to be the case for Sweden-native Ingrid Lindblad. Competing in her second ANWA, Lindblad often finds herself stuck between the chatter of Stanford’s Zhang and Heck. But for the LSU junior, her résumé and ranking should speak louder than any Cardinal chatter. Finishing T-3 in 2021, the LSU standout returns to Augusta National with more titles to her name. In the fall 2021 season at LSU, she won another college tournament title in the Jackson T. Stephens Cup. Last summer, the 21-year-old won the European Ladies Amateur Championship just months after winning the LSU Tiger Golf Classic and finishing runner-up in the SEC women’s championship. Returning to Augusta National, Lindblad is one of the most dominant players in the field and one who could contend for the title.

Young but mighty

Last year, it didn’t matter that Kajitani, at 17, was one of the younger participants in the field. It didn’t matter that Kajitani didn’t have the collegiate experience like the runner-up, then-21-year-old Migliaccio. All that mattered was how the No. 26-ranked player performed for three rounds.

This year, 15-year-olds Avery Zweig and Yana Wilson make their debuts. Although two of the youngest in the field, both Zweig and Wilson are already carving out their names in amateur history before they even step foot in Augusta. Wilson, who won more than 100 junior tournaments before the age of 14, represented the United States in the 2021 Junior Solheim Cup and won the AJGA’s Sean Foley Performance Junior Championship.

With more than 200 amateur and junior event titles to her name, Zweig won four World Amateur Golf Ranking events in 2021, including the AJGA’s Annika Invitational. And this week, Zweig is not putting any expectations on herself as one of the youngest players in the field or thinking about the results or finish.

“I’ve always played against people that were significantly older than me, so already it’s not as big of a deal,” Zweig said. “I think playing in a tournament like this, you expect that everyone there fully deserves to be there and fully has the potential to win. I think that’s something that’s unique to playing in the upper echelon of tournaments in amateur golf and professional golf. I’m going to fully enjoy myself and enjoy the moment and see how it ends up.”

Third time’s a charm for Ellie Slama

When it comes to Augusta National, fifth-year senior at Oregon State University Ellie Slama knows a thing or two. Returning for her third appearance, the 23-year-old knows that this will most likely be her last appearance in this event. But she also knows that she’s ready to make her lasting mark. Although Slama is undecided on whether she will pursue a professional career or focus her attention on becoming a physical therapist, her amateur career highlights why she could be a serious contender this week.

“I think having both career opportunities available to me gives me a good perspective that golf isn’t everything, and it’s an amazing opportunity to play in this event and all my collegiate events,” she said. “But I also know that it’s a fun opportunity that I have to play and have physical therapy school as well. I think going into it, I have less pressure as some of the women who are for sure going to go pro. I’m considering it and I would love to go to Q School. But we’ll see what happens.”

Last summer, she won the Oregon State Amateur for the third time in the past four years and competed in the U.S. Women’s Amateur. During the fall season, she had top-20 finishes in all four starts and was T-6 in the Dick McGuire Invitational.

“Mentally, I’m going into it with no expectations,” Slama said to ESPN. “My goal is to make the cut so that I can play that final round at Augusta, but I really want to just go make memories and have fun. I know it could be my last time playing in the ANWA, so it’s really special that I’ve had the opportunity to play for three years.”



Source link