Jennifer Kupcho (ANWA photo)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – There were no speeches or presentations on the first tee at Champions Retreat on Tuesday morning. In fact, it was remarkably quiet as Jennifer Kupcho prepared to hit the first tee shot in Augusta National Women’s Amateur history. The sheer number of necks craning to see the swing said enough.
This moment didn’t need pomp and circumstance. More than 100 people turned out Tuesday morning for Kupcho’s 9 a.m. opening drive. They were horseshoed four deep around the first tee on a morning just crisp enough that you could see your breath. It was quiet, and it was powerful.
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For the record, this scene never
plays out at a women’s amateur event. Spectators rarely have to jockey for position to see a shot. The ropes – if there are any – are wide open. On Tuesday, a handful of little girls were tucked up against the fence lining the first tee. Here’s hoping there were more watching at home.
Shauna Estes-Taylor’s daughter was. Estes-Taylor, the head women’s golf coach at the University of Arkansas, has three players in the field this week, but the picture that stood out to her Tuesday morning was one of her daughter Grace, taking it all in. She was late to school on Tuesday, but Estes-Taylor wanted to make sure she saw history.
The world watched Kupcho, the top-ranked amateur, hit a remarkably calm (and impressively straight) first swing. She never looked rattled. Asked the night before what she thought of being given that honor, Kupcho gave a typically Kupcho answer. She does not overthink or overplay.
“I guess I didn't really think about it until now,” she told the media, laughing. “…It will be super cool to be able to say I did that.”
Kupcho, like many other competitors, expressed continued disbelief that they were here, competing.
Kupcho is in her final months at Wake Forest, and won the individual title in her last two starts with the team. Kupcho’s place here, along with teammate Emilia Migliaccio, was not lost on Wake Forest head coach Kim Lewellen. Demon Deacons have made an impact at Augusta National for years, and perhaps none more so than Arnold Palmer.
But they’ve all been men.
“With it being an inaugural event with women, what makes it extra special is they play at Wake,” Lewellen said. “…I think they can continue on as women, continue the history of Wake Forest and I think that’s what is so exciting for them.”
With all the build-up to Tuesday’s first drive, it was a delicate balance between downplaying and appreciating the moment. On some level, every player is feeling that.
“If the audience has never seen women play golf before and this may be the first exposure for some viewers to high-level competitive women's golf, then there is pressure there,” said Paige Mackenzie, the lead booth analyst for NBC’s final-round coverage, who formerly played at the college and LPGA levels. “You want to perform and you want to show people how good this product is and how good the young women can play.”
Atthaya Thitikul, winner of last spring’s Asia-Pacific Women’s Amateur, was also in Tuesday morning’s first group off No. 1 tee. She’s ranked inside the top 10 in the world, but audiences don’t often hear about her. Thitikul is the next up-and-comer from Thailand.
She never thought she’d be on this stage when she watched the Masters from across the world.
“Augusta, it’s so hard to get in there because I’m a woman, not a man,” Thitikul said. “All the players are top in the world, really good players coming to play Augusta.”
And this week, as the world will see, really good women.
ABOUT THE Augusta National Women’s Amateur (ANWA)
54-hole stroke-play tournament that will include a
72 player international field. The field will include
winners of other recognized tournaments while also
utilizing the Women's World Amateur Golf Rankings.
The first two rounds will be played at
Retreat Golf Club before the field is cut to the low 30
and ties for the final round at Augusta National.
The tournament will be played the week before
Masters, concluding on Saturday.
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