This week’s inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur will make history and here’s a selection of women who should feature prominently when doing so.
Less than seven years ago, in August 2012, Augusta National admitted its first two female members; Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore. Now, in 2019, the inaugural staging of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur starts this week, April 3-6.
When the announcement was made prior to the 2018 Masters Tournament, Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National said: “Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts left behind a legacy of always trying to contribute meaningfully to the game of golf. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur embodies that principle, and we believe this event will have a significant and lasting impact on the future of the women’s game.
”While the international field of 72 invited players are determined by awarding winners of other recognised championships and using the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), Ireland is proud to have one competitor at the historical event: Olivia Mehaffey (Royal County Down Ladies).
“This is a huge moment for women’s amateur golf,” said Mehaffey before travelling to Augusta earlier this week. “I want to enjoy this opportunity as much as possible and of course prepare as best I can to give myself the best chance of performing well.
”Mehaffey will have the company of her Arizona State University (ASU) teammates Sofia Anokhina (Russia) and Alessandra Fanali (Italy) as well as ASU Women’s Golf Coach Missy Faye for company on the two-flight trip from Tempe to Augusta which she admits will be a comfort. Additionally, her Coach, Donal Scott, will travel from Ireland to aid in Mehaffey’s preparations.
Here at home the golfing population will be cheering on Olivia from the 3rd of April as she begins the Championship (at Champions Retreat Golf Club for the first two rounds before the leading 30 players make the cut to play at Augusta National for the final round), but who are some other players to watch out for in the field?
Ana Belac (Slovenia)
A native of Portoroz, Slovenia, Ana Belac (22), is a junior at Duke University and spent two seasons training alongside Lisa and Leona Maguire who graduated from the Blue Devil programme in 2018. She began the 2018-19 season with a pair of top-five finishes in the autumn, including a fourth-place showing at the ANNIKA Intercollegiate, which helped the Blue Devils to a fifth-place finish. Belac has also secured her place on the International Palmer Cup Team to face the USA in June, the first Slovenian to do so.
Linn Grant (Sweden)
Linn Grant (19) enjoyed a solid year on the golf course in 2018, including finishing runner-up at the Major Champions Invitational in Florida and a third-place finish at the Helen Holm Scottish Women’s Open Championship at Royal Troon. She also won her qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open and was tied for fourth after two rounds.
Grant, who is set to join ASU in 2019, won three times in 2017. This included a three shot victory at the Ladies British Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship 49 years after her grandfather, James Grant, captured the Scottish Boys Championship on the same course.
Leonie Harm (Germany)
Leonie Harm’s (21) story is somewhat unique to that of her peers. Harm’s victory at the 2018 Ladies British Amateur Championship was memorable for multiple reasons, none more so than the fact that in 2013 she was fighting for her life instead of a golf trophy. While jogging, she was hit by a drunk driver, an accident which left her in a coma with multiple serious injuries. “I was pretty much dead,” she stated in an article last year.
After a long rehabilitation process, Harm returned to golf and eventually earned a scholarship to play at the University of Houston where she is completing her senior year. Clinching victory on the 16th at Hillside, she earned herself entry into last year’s RICOH Women’s British Open and the Evian Championships, as well as the 2019 US Women’s Open and, of course, the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Jennifer Kupcho (USA)
Kupcho (21), a senior at Wake Forest University, sits atop of the World Amateur Golf Rankings and was part of the USA team who won gold at the World Amateur Team Championships at Carton House last summer.
Kupcho boasted a 3.5 from 5 record at the 2018 Curtis Cup at Quaker Ridge – only Ireland’s Olivia Mehaffey and her foursome’s partner Sophie Lamb (England) could take a point and a half from the Colorado native. Kupcho was also part of the winning USA Palmer Cup Team at Evian Resort last summer winning 3 out of her 4 matches. Winning four times as a Junior, Kupcho also finished T21 at the 2017 Women’s US Open aged 19.
Andrea Lee (USA)
At just 20 years of age, Andrea Lee, has already represented the United States at the Curtis Cup, the Arnold Palmer Cup and qualified for the U.S. Open in 2018. A junior at Stanford University, she won three collegiate events in 2017-18, and finished T2 at the NCAA Championship. As of March 2019, Lee held the top position on the Golfstat NCAA Women’s Individual Rankings and brings some great form to Augusta.
Alessia Nobilio (Italy)
Alessia Nobilio (17) spent the majority of 2017 and 2018 near the top of the leaderboard. The future UCLA Bruin finished in the top 10 in 16 of 20 individual events dating back to August 2017, including her last eight tournaments.
Nobilio’s 2018 summer highlights included a T2 showing at the Youth Olympic Games in Argentina, runner-up at the World Junior Girls Championship in Canada where Italy won the team event in a playoff against the United States and an appearance on the 2018 European Junior Ryder Cup team. She was also a European Solheim Cup team member in 2017.
Alexa Pano (USA)
The youngest competitor in the ANWA, Alexa Pano (14) finished her 2018 season with a one-stroke victory in the Dixie Amateur, where she closed with a final-round 69. She was a member of the 2018 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team and finished runner-up at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.
The three-time Drive, Chip and Putt national finalist is no stranger to Augusta and is a two-time age group winner at the event. She finished fourth at the 2018 Girl’s Junior PGA Championship and advanced to the last-64 at the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Provided she remains an amateur, the 2019 Augusta National Women’s Amateur Champion will receive an invitation to the next five Augusta National Women’s Amateurs, the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open, the 2019 Women’s British Open, and any USGA, R&A and PGA of America amateur championships for which she is eligible for one year. One can hope that this is the beginning of another meaningful legacy of Jones, Roberts and the Augusta National Golf Club.
For more information, please visit ANWAgolf.com and follow the event’s official social media channels (@ANWAgolf) across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.