Rose Zhang and Alexa Pano during Tuesday's practice round
(courtesy Jennifer Stewart/Augusta National)
by Jordan Perez
Manicured greens, Magnolia Lane, and marvel: April at Augusta always brings a significant level of awe with a mix of grit. The first competitive event of the month takes that to the maximum, as seen by the amazing closing play of champion Jennifer Kupcho
in 2019’s iconic final round
And after what felt like an eternal two-year wait, The Augusta National Women’s Amateur
is back and ready to showcase a field of 82 of the best in women’s amateur golf beginning Wednesday, March 31 thru Saturday, April 3.
SETTING THE GRAND STAGE
Simply put, it took a long journey to get here.
2020’s cancellation promised to honor its original qualifiers an invite for the following year. Ten players on the fringe of their last collegiate dances held Augusta to that promise and retained their amateur status for 2021’s marquee event. Shortly after, the NCAA granted an additional year of eligibility to spring sport athletes impacted by COVID-19 cancellations.
Even before she learned the fate of her collegiate golf career, Brooke Riley
, a fifth-year senior at Northwestern University, had her secured Augusta appearance at the top of her priorities.
“I kind of was running myself through scenarios, of if I don’t get a fifth year in college golf, this is such an incredible opportunity, will I stay an amateur the rest of the year to be able to get that back?” Riley told Golfweek. “I definitely think I would have done that just for the opportunity to play a competitive tournament at Augusta.”
Similar to Riley, Alabama graduate student Kenzie Wright
, an SMU transfer who blossomed at her transfer destination and qualified for ANWA in 2020, put some patience into practice for her first shot at ANWA.
“I’ve had so many of my amateur goals that I haven’t been able to finish or accomplish because of everything coming to a halt,” Wright said to Golfweek in 2020. “This is something I want to stay amateur for no matter what.”
ANWA’s talent isn’t exclusive to college students, either. The robust field is filled with players like 17-year-old Rose Zhang
, a high school student, and the world No. 1-ranked women’s amateur golfer, all the way to Vanderbilt’s Abbey Carlson
, an engineer at Boeing a year removed from the collegiate circuit.
Throughout the 54 first-timers and returners, one thing remains consistent: sentiments of gratitude for the privilege to play, especially given the COVID-19 landscape. Despite 2021’s green light, not every competitor invited to the championship is in the clear.
Through mandatory COVID-19 testing, ANWA has begun to build out its own pool of player withdrawals. Three Texas Longhorns - seniors Kaitlyn Papp
and Agathe Laisne
, and junior Hailee Cooper
- all tested positive for COVID-19 and withdrew from competition days leading up to the first tee time.
Papp contended at ANWA back in 2019 with a T5 finish, and most recently, rallied for a T9 low amateur finish
at the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open.
Nevertheless, there’s plenty of ferocity in 2021’s field on national display at Champions Retreat and at Augusta National on Saturday, and a few special names to keep an eye on as the week progresses.
It’s hard to look at Rose Zhang and not think her golf game is untouchable. The youngest player in the WAGR top-10 also happens to be the top-ranked player, with credit to an extremely mature golf game. The current U.S. Women’s Amateur champion battled a gnarly wrist injury late 2020 to early 2021, but showed up to the 2021 Symetra Tour opener and grabbed a runner-up finish in a playoff against pro Ruixin Liu. Though Zhang’s 2019 ANWA finish was T17, the 2020 Rolex Junior Player of the Year has had a remarkable rise to the top and poses a serious threat this year.
This Arizona State standout is taking the PAC-12 by storm in the conference’s return to competition. The sophomore enters ANWA having won three out of her last four collegiate events, and has put her team in pole position just as many times with her precise short game. Her penchant for clutch finishes and skillful setups will serve her well with Augusta’s numerous testy greens.
A fall away from college golf was didn’t derail Wallin a single bit; instead, it empowered her to take Florida State to the top of college golf. Thanks to Wallin’s consistent top 10s and a huge individual win, she’s been able to anchor Florida State to two spring team wins. Her sound play, along with her familiarity at Augusta (she notched a strong T7 finish in 2019’s ANWA) help make a strong case for her second campaign.
Among the SIX (yes, six) University of Southern California players in the ANWA field, Corpuz is the graduate student and veteran among her peers - and that wealth of experience has taken her incredibly far. The ANWA returner is peaking in her final collegiate spring with two individual wins under her belt, leading her teammates with a 70.25 stroke average (over a stroke better than the program’s season record). Her ANNIKA Award Spring Watch List nomination only speaks to her momentum that should translate this week.
It took this powerful South Carolina sophomore nearly no time to dominate the college golf game. Even with a shaken up end to her freshman year, Roussin-Bouchard still managed to showcase why she’s the best in the SEC with four collegiate wins to her name. A recent 15-under historical run at the Valspar Augusta Invitational down the road proved she’s a cut above the rest after she ran away with medalist honors and the lowest round in program history.
TV Times and How to Watch
Wednesday, March 31 and Thursday, April 1
Golf Channel will have live reports and highlights. If a playoff is required to determine the final spots in the top 30 who will advance to the final round, the playoff will be streamed live on ANWAgolf.com
as well as the ANWA’s official Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts.
Friday, April 2
Live From The Masters, Golf Channel
Saturday, April 3
Final round: 12-3 p.m., NBC
Final round: 12 p.m.-3 p.m., ANWAgolf.com
Trophy ceremony: Following the final round on ANWAgolf.com
as well as ANWA’s official Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts.