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Len Ziehm On Golf

Jennifer Kupcho wasn’t the only winner at the inaugural ANWA

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jennifer Kupcho was a convincing winner in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur on Saturday, but women’s golf may have been the biggest benefactor.

For the third straight year the top women players had a new high profile event to build on. In 2017 it was the Senior LPGA Championship at Indiana’s French Lick Resort. In 2018 it was the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. The ANWA had far fewer players than both of those but it had also more hoopla and far bigger galleries. The post-round awards ceremony was very Masters-like, too.

“Just walking up the fairway with so many people is a feeling like no other,’’ said Kupcho. “This tournament showed how good we are. It exceeded my expectations, and it was the most organized tournament I’ve ever played in. The women’s game will come up stronger because of it.’’

Saturday’s gallery marched four deep on both sides of the fairways when Kupcho and Mexico’s Maria Fassi were wrapping up their day-long duel for the title.

Kupcho, the reigning NCAA champion and No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, took control thanks to a torrid stretch on holes 13 through 16. She played them in eagle-par-birdie-birdie and added another bird with a 25-footer to conclude the tournament.

Fassi had opened a two-stroke lead when they arrived at the No. 13 tee, a key par-5 in Augusta National’s famed Amen Corner. Kupcho carried the creek fronting the green with a 3-hybrid second shot from 211 yards, then rolled in an eight-footer with a two-foot break for the only eagle of the tournament.

“Being two back I knew I had to make a move’’ she said. The eagle meant Kupcho and Fassi were tied again and Kupcho pulled away with her three birdies in the remaining five holes. She posted a 67 in the final round, the best score of the day.

Fassi and Kupcho are long-time friends. Fassi plays collegiately for Arkansas, Kupcho for Wake Forest. Both have already earned LPGA playing privileges and deferred turning pro until after their college seasons are over.

Finishing at 10-under-par 206 for 54 holes, Kupcho had a four-stroke advantage on Fassi at the finish but their duel was spirited in the middle of the round when they took turns holding the lead. Kupcho led the tournament until the eighth hole on Saturday, when a migraine attack hampered her for the next four holes.

That’s when Fassi made a move, but she couldn’t sustain it.

The tourney started with 72 invited players, and 25 countries were represented. Augusta National was set up at 6,365 yards for the ANWA. The men will play it at 7,475 yards when the Masters tees off on Thursday.

Fred Ridley, the Augusta National president who announced the creation of the first women’s competition at storied Augusta National at the 2018 Masters, saw nothing but positives from the first staging.

“Focusing on women’s accomplishments in general, not just in golf and sports, is good for society,’’ he said. It’s good for everybody’’

The final round started with ceremonial tee shots from four of the greats of women’s golf—Se Ri Pak, Lorena Ochoa, Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam. They had the same good vibes that Ridley had.

“When they announced it last year I had chills wishing I could be an amateur again so I could come and play,’’ said Lopez.

“It was so exciting to see the players after their rounds, their smiles all up to their ears,’’ said Sorenstam. “They can’t stop smiling and it’s a dream come true. I’m so happy for them.’’

The inaugural ANWA got the climax to another season of golf at Augusta National off to a rousing start. The national finals of the Drive, Chip and Putt competition for youngsters between the ages of 6 and 15 will be held today (SUNDAY) and then the men take over on Monday for three days of preparations for the Masters.