Players spent Friday prepping at Augusta National (ANWA photo)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – If all goes according to plan, then all kinds of new viewers will tune into Saturday’s final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Here’s hoping they’ll be hooked on the product, or at the very least become aware of the quality of what’s out here.
For the newcomers to this arena, here are a few things to look for in that final round.
Make sure you’re paying attention at the first tee.
Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez redirected traffic under the iconic tree behind the Augusta National clubhouse on Friday afternoon. As she strolled toward the pro shop, a sea of TV cameras and reporters flowed behind her, as if she had magnetic pull. It was comical and powerful at the same time.
Lopez is like the matriarch of women’s golf, and along with Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Se Ri Pak, will be at the first tee on Saturday morning to kick off the final round with a ceremonial tee shot. The order will go Pak, Ochoa, Lopez then Sorenstam.
It was chilling to watch the four hold court on Friday, so be prepared for that image on Saturday.
“I will confess, I will be a little nervous” Lopez said of her shot. “I probably won't sleep, either. But it's just exciting to be a part of history. Tomorrow will be a day of history for us, for the amateurs that are here and for Augusta National.”
The million-dollar question: How are the women going to handle Augusta National?
The only thing that tripped up the four godmothers was an attempt to pin them down on Saturday’s scoring. Asked what they thought the low final-round score would be, they hesitated.
Conditions and pin placements play a big role, as Sorenstam and Ochoa acknowledged, but ultimately Sorenstam had the best thought about why it is so hard to pin down a number.
“They have nothing really to compare it with,” she said. “If you think (about it), it's the first competitive women's event here, so they are setting the bar.”
Final-round tee times at Augusta National
Arkansas senior Maria Fassi, for one, can hit every par 5 in two, as she learned over the course of Friday’s practice round. (In fact, she found herself hitting either a 6-iron or a 4-iron into the long holes.) Arizona State junior Olivia Mehaffey is in the same boat.
Like all the Arizona State players, Mehaffey had some pre-tournament insight into the course from former men’s coach Tim Mickelson. Part of the message was that on some holes, par is an OK score.
She plans to re-read Mickelson’s notes this evening now that she has seen the place. Mehaffey would understandably take as many practice rounds as Augusta would be willing to give her. Unfamiliarity may play a role in Saturday’s scores.
“Nobody really knows this golf course and the more you play it, the more you like it,” she said. “Tim mentioned the rookies always struggle here.”
Texas sophomore Kaitlyn Papp has seen the course at least one more time than most players.
“This is my second time playing Augusta, and both times, the undulation of the greens was so shocking but also makes it pretty fun,” she said. “You have to use your creativity and imagination to try and make the best putts you can make.”
The most memorable Augusta finishes are a horse race.
Maybe one of the most exciting elements of Augusta National, as seen annually in the final round of the Masters, is that there are scoring opportunities over the back nine. You’ve got to play
to win, and that could happen tomorrow in the last few pairings.
Jennifer Kupcho leads at 5 under, but Maria Fassi is right behind her at 4 under. They’re two of the longest players in this field, two of the most experienced and two who already have their future relatively sorted out. Both locked up an LPGA card at the eight-round LPGA Q-Series in the fall.
As it stands, Fassi has to play at least a little offense, but said she won’t focus on Kupcho’s play. Fassi really doesn’t have to go out of her way to do that. She is naturally aggressive.
“That's the way I play golf, and I don't think I should change it,” she said. “Of course, I'll be smart on some of the holes. Just play my game as much as I can.”
A player’s story is powerful, if she knows how to tell it.
Many viewers will tune in on Saturday to see Augusta National, but over the course of the three-hour broadcast on NBC (noon-3 p.m. eastern), they’ll hear a lot of backstories on the 30 players left in the field. Ultimately, that’s the area in which players have the most opportunity to leave a mark.
Many of the players who have longevity on the LPGA have a story, and they tell it in a compelling way. Think Stacy Lewis overcoming scoliosis and Lizette Salas making opportunities for herself when there were none.
A story is a way to remember a player.
Take, for instance, Thursday’s playoff. Ainhoa Olarra became a hero when she jarred a 25-footer for birdie on the second extra hole. If her sheer enthusiasm wasn’t enough to win over the crowd, then the remarks she made on camera were.
Olarra grew up in Spain playing against and rooming with Celia Barquin Arozamena, the former Iowa State player who was tragically killed last fall. Olarra’s story of feeling Barquin Arozamena’s presence this week was chilling. It was a window into knowing what makes Barquin Arozamena tick
– what she is playing for.
Another player in this field, Haley Moore, has developed a following as the player who holed a gutsy winning putt for Arizona at last spring’s NCAA finals. Shortly after, she recounted to Golfweek magazine
how she had been bullied as a girl, and how it drove her to succeed.
That story resurfaced this week, and gave many fans – especially young ones – a connection point with Moore. Knowing that possibility didn’t make it any easier for Moore to share the story, but in the end, she’s glad she did.
“It definitely felt very weird talking about that story because it happened so long ago,” Moore said Friday. “I tried to get it out of my head and out of my mind because I don’t want to be distracted. I knew that if I told the story, it would affect people that can come back from it (bullying).”
And as for Jennifer Kupcho, the first- and second-round lead brought plenty of media requests. The communications department at Wake Forest had explained to her before this week that the ANWA would present more of that type of attention than she’s ever fielded. She was the first player off the golf course during Friday’s practice round, and the media scrum waiting for her had a Masters-esque density.
“It’s a lot of social skills,” Kupcho said earlier in the week.
The final word
Asked what she wanted viewers to understand about women’s golf by the end of Saturday’s broadcast, Olivia Mehaffey replied quickly, “How strong it is.” She watched the LPGA Founders Cup on-site last month, and implored Arizona State’s men’s golfers to come out with her, too.
"The standard of golf is amazing. . . . They’re going to hit wedge shots better than you hit wedge shots and they’re going to hole more putts than you hole,” she told them.
Mehaffey then pointed out that Saturday’s broadcast will have as large a reach as you can get for an amateur sport, let alone amateur golf.
“That’s where the sport is going and it shows how strong it is right now.”