To prepare for her first trip to Augusta National, Kenzie Wright has been chipping off of Alabama’s practice putting green to get a feel for tight lies.
“Mic (Potter) probably won’t be too happy to hear this,” said Wright, a fifth-year senior, of the Tide’s head coach.
Apologies to Potter, but there’s a whatever-it-takes attitude when it comes to Augusta National. Whether it’s securing tickets to the Masters or preparing your game for a bucket-list event.
After last year’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staying amateur for another year and playing a super-senior season at Alabama was a no-brainer for Wright. The 23-year-old stayed on in Tuscaloosa, where on May 1 she’ll graduate with a Master’s degree in sport hospitality. The Texan plans to attend LPGA Q-School later this year.
But first, she’ll join 82 other amateurs March 31-April 3 for the much-anticipated second edition of the ANWA. Wright, who will be one 54 first-timers at the event, said Masters week always felt like a holiday for her family. In high school, she’d sneak a peek at tournament coverage on her phone during class.
The chance to play the iconic course still feels somewhat untouchable.
The good news is that no matter how Wright plays, she’s guaranteed to tee it up at Augusta National. The field will be cut to the top 30 players after 36 holes at nearby Champions Retreat Golf Club. On Friday, all 85 players will the play a practice round at Augusta National. The final round will be broadcast live on NBC.
In 2019, Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi put on an unforgettable show in front of packed crowds. Kupcho played her final six holes in 5 under, posting a 5-under 67 at Augusta to win the inaugural event. Two days later, both Kupcho and Fassi were on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
It was an instant classic.
Linn Grant was in the gallery that Saturday, watching a couple of friends compete after she missed the cut.
“I want to get some revenge,” she said of Champions Retreat.
So much has happened since Grant last competed in Augusta. Last December, for example, she was in the final group at the U.S. Women’s Open on Saturday alongside fellow amateur Kaitlyn Papp. Grant’s inspiring run came unraveled when she carded a quadruple-bogey eight on the 10th hole.
“Inside I was fuming, just furious,” she said. “But then I also know that there and then, the anger inside of me won’t help me to score better.”
Right now, Grant said, everything about her game feels like it’s going her way. The Arizona State sophomore, currently No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, won the inaugural Sun Devil Winter Classic in February, the Bruin Wave Invitational in early March and the Clover Cup 11 days later.
“I just have a mental flow,” said Grant, “and feel very positive about what I’m doing.”
Rose Zhang returns to Augusta as the undisputed favorite. The No. 1-ranked amateur enjoyed a spectacular 2020 season in which she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur as well as three AJGA invitationals and finished 11th at the ANA Inspiration, an LPGA major.
Zhang had the chance to return to the ANA this year (held the same week as ANWA) but instead chose to come back to Augusta, where she tied for 17th in 2019. The 17-year-old Stanford commit suffered a left wrist injury last summer that resulted from hitting balls in her garage during the pandemic lockdown. After making the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open last December, Zhang took a month off from golf to give her wrist more time to heal.
“It was just uncomfortable,” said Zhang, who noted that additional breaks might be in order.
Two weeks before the ANWA, Zhang nearly won a Symetra Tour event. She lost to Ruixin Liu on the second playoff hole at the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Classic.
Ashley Gilliam heads to Augusta National for a third time after twice competing in the Drive, Chip and Putt finals (2014 and 2015). The Mississippi State sophomore was out practicing at Old Waverly when she received a notification on her phone that a package had been delivered. After a long 30-minute ride back to her apartment, Gilliam got her parents and older sister on FaceTime so that they could watch her open the official invitation.
Her parents pulled up pictures from her Drive, Chip and Putt invitations to hold them all side by side. Gilliam’s father, Marshall, who played baseball at Tennessee Tech, will caddie for Ashley the first two rounds. She plans to get a local caddie for Augusta National.
In 2014, it was Gilliam’s mother, Jennifer, who caddied for her at Drive, Chip and Putt. Jennifer played college golf at Ole Miss and introduced her daughters to the game.
“I can’t remember what age I finally beat her,” said Ashley, whose older sister Savannah is a senior at Middle Tennessee State.
Wright said her father, J.W., a car salesman in McKinney, doesn’t often show his emotions, but he can’t hold back when the subject of his daughter playing Augusta comes up.
“He’s already excited just to go shopping,” she said.
Before the pandemic, Wright said only one designated guest was allowed to watch the practice round at Augusta. But now that fewer total guest tickets are available to players, all three designated guests can walk the practice round on Friday. Wright said her boyfriend, Brayden Conover, a golf writer who is taking the week off from his job, will get the third badge.
“It was a big fight between my mom and dad over who was going to be the designated guest before,” said Wright, with a laugh.
Now everyone gets to experience the walk of a lifetime. Maybe even more than once.
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/03/28/augusta-national-womens-amateur-iconic-course-first-timers-returners-untouchable/