The Augusta National Womens Amateur – a triumph for womens sport

 

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When Masters Chairman Fred Ridley announced the inaugural Augusta National Womens Amateur last year it caused a lot of excitement but nothing to what we felt during the final round on Saturday. What happened could not have been better. This celebration of the amateur, Bob Jones would have loved it, especially how the final round played out. 72 young women aged between 16 and 24 years from 23 countries  began the tournament at Champions Retreat Club and after 36 holes the field was cut to 30. Every competitor then played a practice round at Augusta National and on Saturday the final round took place, with every member of the final 30 being featured on television.

The final round had a first class atmosphere, it was a unique moment in history. People in the gallery called out “we’re proud of you” “awesome” “you rock” the kind of things heard at professional events, but it was different, more meaningful. There seemed to be a huge, uplifting sense of pride. Support came from several PGA Tour pros, Bubba Watson stayed for over six hours watching, celebrity Niall Horan called it “a huge day in the game of golf” and the illustrious LPGA stars Annika Sorenstram, Nancy Lopez, Lorena Ochoa and Se Ri Pak were there to cheer everyone on.

What made the day so special was the two players pictured above, Jennifer Kupcho – left – from Wake Forest University, the number one amateur in the world, and the world number six, Maria Fassi, from Mexico who studies at Arkansas. It turned into a huge battle of match play at its finest when they left the rest of the field behind and fiercely competed against each other.

Maria had been given lots of advice by Angel Cabrera, the 2009 Masters Champion, a friend of her fathers. She took the lead on the front nine with her superior driving, she made every par 5 in 2 shots and made five aggressive birdies. By the 8th hole it looked as though Jennifer Kupcho was deflated, her body language was down. It was only after the round that we found out that she had had a migrane attack, which she was able to shake off.

Jennifer’s driving was very precise. She did not miss one fairway and put the ball into good positions taking the bunkers out of play and making some beautiful approach shots. Her swing has a lot of power generated from staying down in the swing, keeping an open hip position and a balanced spine. She has also been using a lower trajectory ball which spins less giving her much more control, while retaining a speed of around 107 mph.

The momentum began to swing away from Maria Fassi when she started leaking shots out to the right on the 11th and 12 th holes. On the par 5 13th she had an aggressive putt but didnt get the ball high enough, she played it with too much break. Jennifer Kupcho went to school on this and made a magnificent eagle putt.

Jennifer’s resilience began to show as she fought back as Maria Fassi missed more shots out to the right in 15, 16 and 17, possibly as a result of pressing too hard. Fassi showed lovely sportsmanship when Kupcho grittily fought back and by 16 they were tied. Kupcho made a birdie and Fassi missed, a 2 shot swing, Kupcho’s putting was brave and skilful, she put herself into good positions below the hole to putt uphill. A final, dramatic birdie on the 18th hole gave Jennifer Kupcho the title after a huge fightback. She was drowned in water sprayed on her from her Wake Forest team mates and she apologised to Annika Sorenstam for making her wet when she was offered an embrace.

There’s always big celebration at the end of the Solheim and Curtis Cups and after each major but I can honestly only think of one other time when there was this level of emotion at the finish, and that was when Annika Sorenstam finished her career at the British Open at Sunningdale, the noise was deafening. The noise was of a similar decibel here at Augusta, a deep-rooted joy of barriers being broken, of our gender moving forward.

There has been a lot of talk of this event being transformed into a womens professional one, perhaps replacing the major taking place at the same time. Perhaps, in time. But for now, in the spirit of Augusta National honouring the amateur, this could not have been played out better. It was a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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