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Len Ziehm On Golf

Four legends will get the ANWA’s climax off to a rousing start

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Augusta National Golf Club has been a trend-setter since legendary player Bobby Jones led its creation in the 1930s. Jones also organized the Masters — at least arguably the world’s most popular golf tournament — in 1934. Today women finally get their chance to play the iconic course in a tournament setting.

Or at least 30 of them will. They were the survivors from the 72 invited international players who went 36 holes on the nearby Champions Retreat club this week to decide who would compete amidst loads of fanfare Saturday.

This marks the third straight year of breakthrough events for women golfers. In 2017 the Ladies PGA Tour staged its first Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick Resort in Indiana. Last year the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open was played at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. The ANWA has fewer players but much more hoopla than either of them.

All the ANWA players had a closed-to-the-public practice round on Friday at Augusta National and LPGA legends Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, Lorena Ochoa and Se Ri Pak were on hand to greet them when they finished play. Today all four players will hit ceremonial tee shots. Pak will go first, then Ochoa, then Lopez and finally Sorenstam.

“It’s such an honor, such a great moment in golf, for us to make up a group like Arnold (Palmer), Jack (Nicklaus) and Gary (Player) did,’’ said Lopez. “It’s exciting to be part of history.’’

As for the current players one, from the beginning of the week, has stood out throughout the buildup to the final round. Jennifer Kupcho is already the reigning NCAA champion and No. 1 in the Official World Amateur Rankings.

The Wake Forest senior was the only player seated with Augusta National president Fred Ridley and Diana Murphy, a former U.S, Golf Association president and the fourth woman member of the club, at the first of four straight nights of pre-tournament banquets. Kopcho also had the honor of hitting the first tee shot on Wednesday. She shared the first-round lead with 16-year old California phenom Zoe Santos and led solo after Thursday’s Round 2.

Kopcho played her first 31 holes of the tourney without a bogey and she still hasn’t had a three-putt. Still, her margin is just one shot over Mexico’s Maria Fassi going into today’s (SATURDAY) final 18. Fassi, a longer hitter, will be her playing partner.

“We’ll have a lot of fun’’ said Kopcho. “We are good friends, and we’re both good at golf – really good at golf. We’ll make a lot of birdies, and it will be pretty fun to watch us.’’

In addition to Friday’s practice round Kopcho had a look at Augusta National during a practice with her Wake Forest teammates. Though she’s yet to play the course in competition she has watched the Masters on television and believes “I know it well.’’

“But you don’t see the greens on TV, and that’s the toughest part of the course,’’ said Kopcho. “So, I think I know the course, but not the greens. If you’re above the hole you’re just trying to two-putt. You don’t want to be having a five-footer coming back. That’s going to be a big thing out there.’’

She was told the greens at Champions Retreat were similar to what Augusta National will offer today.

“But I’m sure they will be faster.’’ said Kopcho, “and I would say I’m a pretty good fast green putter. I’m pretty good at figuring out how hard to hit it.’’

The tourney started with players from 25 countries ranging in age from 14 to 23. Of the 30 still in contention 17 are from countries outside the U.S. NBC Sports will broadcast the final round from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.