How does it feel to play Augusta National for the very first time?
Very few can tell the tale, but an even smaller group can put into words the exhilaration that comes with playing a practice round on the hollowed grounds on the eve of the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur.
The entire 72 players in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur field all enjoyed one of the most memorable practice rounds of their lives on Friday, but a special few got to take in the walk for the first time.
Rose Zhang’s closest pursuer, Andrea Lignell, who sits five shots behind the leader, was one of the competitors who played her first-ever round at Augusta on Friday. With more notes and insights than ever, she left the practice round feeling prepared and at ease. “You have nothing to lose basically so you can just go out there and chase the lead,” she says.
Despite the fortitude it took to win a national championship two years ago, Ole Miss head coach Kory Henkes noticed Lignell was struggling with her mental game. “It’s just way more fun to just enjoy yourself on the golf course than getting mad at yourself for no reason. So definitely more this past year it’s been getting a lot better.”
Including Lignell, a total of 11 players will be competing in the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur for the first time in their careers and shared meaningful observations and memories. That group features Cayetanna Fernandez Garcia Poggio, Gianna Clemente, Maria Jose Marin, Monet Chun, Yuna Araki, Lottie Woad, Jiyoo Lim, Bohyun Park, Charlotte Heath and Saki Baba.
Final Round Pairings and Tee Times
But one player who fell outside the cut line, with a smile stretched across her face, expressed pure unadulterated joy about her day at Augusta National. When asked about where her motivation to return sits, she sounded as ready as Saturday’s competitors: “I want to be here already. I want it to be next year right now.”
Amanda Sambach and Megha Ganne
Many first-timers expressed that their favorite holes either being No. 12 or No. 16. Maria Jose Marin tried to simulate playing the final round at the Masters by hitting a shot over the lake, and also aiming for the back left pin location on the green. Even though she fulfilled a lifelong dream, it’s the competition aspect that she’s still eagerly waiting for: “It’s going to feel a lot different, and that’s the magic of the round.”
Another junior, Gianna Clemente, relived a few moments from her Drive, Chip, and Putt appearance seven years ago, but was thrilled to finally receive the full Augusta experience. “Whoa, this is actually real life,” she said of her reaction to stepping on the tee box on No. 12. She had a nice par save from the bunker, claiming she parred all of Amen Corner.
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Rain in the forecast for Saturday's final round
Chances are the players won't be treated to the perfect spring weather associated with The Masters, as an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms and wind gusts up to 35 mph in the Augusta area has forced officials to use a two-tee start for the final round with the last pairing going off at 8:50 a.m. E.T..
Zhang set to close the deal, but will she?
Rose Zhang will take a five-shot lead into the final round over Lignell while Jenny Bae is six back and the world's top-ranked female amateur shows no signs of letting up. The three players have separated themselves from the pack as Bae's closest pursuers are four back of the Georgia senior.
But don’t get comfortable; if ANWA’s history has taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen on Saturday.
Zhang has proven to be a terrific frontrunner, but she has shot no better than 74 in her previous three final rounds at Augusta. It was last year at Grayhawk Golf Club when she took a seven-shot lead into the final round and closed with a 75, which was good for a three-stroke victory. She hopes to draw upon that experience tomorrow.
"That experience was certainly new, and I think that was probably the most nervous that I've ever been in tournament play. But it was because I was essentially playing for not only myself but my team, and as a freshman, you really want that title bad. That was partially everything that I wanted when I came into college."
Admittedly, she was "spraying" her drives in Friday's practice round, including one that went 30 yards to the right of her target line. She went back to the range to make peace with her driver.
"I am spraying my ball a little bit, so I do have to work on that on the range later on," said Zhang. "But other than that, I kind of know what I need to do, and I'm just going to commit to that game plan tomorrow."
If Zhang is to take a walk up the 18th fairway tomorrow on her way to the ANWA title, her father Henry will be right there by her side.
Zhang had considered tapping the expertise of a local Augusta National caddy for Saturday's final round, but ultimately decided to stick with her dad.
"Yeah, so my dad and I, we've always kind of considered, hey, like if we make it to the final round, we're going to see if an Augusta caddie would sit me and my caddie for the next day, but ultimately I feel like what we have is going pretty well thus far, and I feel very comfortable with him on the bag. He's very predictable. We know our games in and out.
"I think especially when you're at the biggest stage at Augusta, it's pretty necessary to have that comfort to be able to be yourself and do what you need to do."
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.
View Complete Tournament Information