One round for women at Augusta
Column: National Women’s Amateur historic
When Erica Shepherd was in the fifth grade, she wrote a bucket-list paper that included the following: play basketball and golf at Duke; become the first woman to play in the Masters; marry Cody Zoeller and have twin boys.
Parts of that essay, typed on pink paper with an image of “The Big Handsome” attached, are enough to make a teenage Shepherd blush. Still, 12-yearold Shepherd was remarkably prescient.
The 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion heads to Duke this fall to play golf. This week the Hoosier native is one of 72 women who have a chance to make history as the first female to hoist a trophy at Augusta National.
“I think having those dreams,” said 18-year-old Shepherd, “and just putting them on paper just makes it so much more possible to become realistic.”
Fifth-grade Shepherd couldn’t possibly understand the staggering reach of that Augusta dream, although it was written in 2012, the same year the club welcomed its first female members.
ANWA or ANA? Choice to be made
For the past year, people have asked which event I’m going to cover the first week of April. With the ANA Inspiration and the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur overlapping, there was a choice to be made.
I have covered the past 15 ANAs, but for all of the girls like Shepherd who dreamed of one day competing at Augusta, and for those who couldn’t bring themselves to even think it, the choice was clear: Go watch history be made.
“It’s going to be everything,” Shepherd said of what it would mean to win. “They’ll always be the first winner of what could be the biggest turning point in women’s golf.”
Even before the first ball is in the air on Saturday, we can all agree this wasn’t a home run for Augusta National. There’s a practice round in the middle of the tournament for Pete’s sake.
The fact that the women only get one round at Augusta National feels like a slight. The making of this event should’ve been done in concert with the LPGA so that the best amateurs in the world wouldn’t have to choose between a major and Augusta National.
It’s impossible to overlook those two missteps.
Yet it remains a significant step forward. And in the spirit of the LPGA’s new Drive On campaign, a trip down Magnolia Lane is for every girl. They will crush it.
I’ve never met someone who went to Augusta National for the first time and came back saying it was overrated. It’s one of the few places on the planet that exceeds the hype.
Goosebumps on your goosebumps
The fact that Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Se Ri Pak — the Mount Rushmore of modern-day women’s golf — will be gathered on the first tee Saturday morning to usher in a new era at Augusta hits all of the right notes.
It’s unfortunate that some folks can’t enjoy what’s coming — and there will be goosebumps on your goosebumps Saturday — without lamenting about the fact that there’s no Women’s Masters.
Others believe what’s been made of the event’s potential impact to be overblown.
Those people have probably never turned on the television to see someone who looks like them do what once seemed impossible for the first time.
Sorenstam, a three-time winner of the ANA Inspiration, has no problem seeing the week from a big-picture standpoint.
“I think Corporate America is going to be there on Saturday to see it,” she said. “The girls will have the biggest stage in women’s golf. I don’t see a downside to that at all.”
Last Wednesday, Lopez joined college golf ’s Maria Fassi and Sierra Brooks for a media tour in New York City. Fassi and Brooks helped unveil the ANWA trophy on NBC’s “Today” show.
New York media tours don’t happen much for LPGA players — think Michelle Wie wins the U.S. Women’s Open — and never for amateurs. That’s the pull of Augusta National, and women’s golf needs it.
This one round is important
When many of the decision-makers in this country watch these women compete on Saturday and meet them in person, they’ll be blown away by the total package.
What that translates to long term on the LPGA and on the grounds of Augusta National is guesswork at this stage, but this one round is important.
We can all hope that Augusta National’s commitment to the women’s game and this tournament only grows stronger. That the elements that make this feel like a token gesture one day cease to exist.
In the meantime, let’s celebrate the fact that the best female amateurs in the world will compete in front of monster crowds on network television with history on the line.
“I think it’s huge,” Sorenstam said, “I really do.”
Nobody in Shepherd’s fifth-grade class thought she’d really go to Duke, much less play at Augusta National.
She sure showed them.
Erica Shepherd is one of 72 who’ll play the Augusta Women’s National Amateur. The final round will be at Augusta National.