Maria Fassi (Walt Beazley, Razorbacks Athletics Communications)
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Maria Fassi
won over a lot of new fans – many of them young – at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Even though it wasn’t her day, Fassi displayed a sort of gentle power that was a hit under the spotlight. She looked larger than life in her reflective aviators – swinging out of her shoes and pumping an arm with each momentum change.
This is Fassi in her element. The Mexico native is as good under the lights as she is one-to-one, and that can be a steep learning curve for a 21-year-old. It comes naturally to Fassi.
“I always say this is Maria Fassi’s perfect environment,” Arkansas head coach Shauna Taylor said after the second round of the NCAA Championship at Blessings Golf Club. “I think she loves the challenges, she loves the spotlight. The bigger the challenges, I think the better the play you’ll see.”
Fassi thought she needed a sub-70 score in Monday’s final round on a Blessings layout that Taylor said was playing as hard as she’s ever seen it. Fassi put up a bogey-free 5-under 68 and cruised to a four-shot win at 8 under.
It wasn't so easy as just going out and coming in. A thunderstorm passed over the Blessings just after Fassi made the turn. She had to sit and wait for roughly an hour before returning to the course.
Fassi's closest chaser, Sierra Brooks, had already played her round in the morning. It was a wild day for Brooks, who made seven birdies but also two double bogeys in an even-par 73. It's a lot to think about, chasing a national title, but Brooks tried to remember that her team was also fighting for a spot in match play. She made the day about that.
"I wanted to go as low as I could for them," Brooks said. "We were all out there fighting for each other and trying to make it to match play so I went into today with that mindset. I think that also relieved some pressure on the individual title."
Florida didn't quite get that done on Monday, though Arkansas did. The match-play bracket still had a few holes in it when the sun set. The weather delay was just long enough to prevent stroke play from finishing. Good thing it wasn't long enough to delay Fassi's big moment. The fans had already assembled for their girl.
The Arkansas fan base horseshoed around Blessings’ closing hole at the end of the day and gave a goosebump-raising “woo-pig sooie!” chant as Fassi walked up the fairway in Taylor's embrace. They chanted again after Fassi holed the final putt.
Fassi walking away with the NCAA individual title, Arkansas’ first since Stacy Lewis
won it in 2007, is a dream realized for a lot of people – not the least of whom, Fassi.
“It was just way better than what I had dreamed,” Fassi said. This is why she deferred that LPGA card she earned in October. This is also why the university – plus the town of Fayetteville and Blessings founder John Tyson – chased hosting duties.
The ANWA may have gone Jennifer Kupcho
’s way, but Fassi is perfectly happy with the way she wrote the next chapter in Fayetteville. There were an estimated 20,000 people watching at Augusta National, not to mention the potentially thousands more who tuned in to the broadcast. But they weren’t Fassi's people.
To Fassi, the NCAAs and the ANWA are incomparable for that reason.
“I think it all happens for a reason, and I'm glad it did go that way,” Fassi said. “This means way more than the Augusta Women's Amateur. Not because of the NCAA or Augusta or whatever. It's just winning at home, because this is home to me.”
A few hours after the final round of the ANWA, a video surfaced showing Fassi standing with Taylor under the oak tree on the lawn of Augusta National. The scene is iconic enough just for the setting, but the words each says should be the real takeaway. It’s a window into what’s going on in Fayetteville – more specifically an answer to the question, why did Fassi decide to finish her semester at Arkansas instead of moving on and cashing checks?
There is a give and take in the Razorback program. Players leave it better than they found it – they send and say thank you’s. They move on but they remain deeply embedded in this community, and they never forget their roots.
“I really do think when you give, you get back in return,” Taylor said. “I think Maria is a perfect example of kind of that motto that we live by in our locker room, and just a great example of that for all of us.”
Arkansas isn't done with Fassi yet. For one thing, there's a team title still on the line.
For another, Fassi is guaranteed a spot in the NW Arkansas Championship, an LPGA event played in Fayetteville. (She earned that and an LPGA Marathon Classic start with her NCAA title.) Chances are Fassi fans will have lots more reason to call the pigs.
ABOUT THE NCAA Division I Women's Championship
30 teams and 6 individuals not on a qualifying
team make up the field for the championship of
Division I women's golf.
After 72 holes of stroke play, the individual
champion is crowned, and the low 8 teams advance
match play to determine the team champion.
View Complete Tournament Information