AUGUSTA, Ga. — Many words can be summoned to describe Augusta National, the long-time home of the Masters and one of the most famous golf courses in the world.
Sometimes, like in golf, it’s best to just keep it simple.
“Magical,” said Olivia Mehaffey, one of 30 players who made it to the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur on Saturday.
“It exceeds all expectations,” she said.
Mehaffey, from Northern Ireland, playing the event for the second time, did not win, a final-round 75 meaning a ninth-place finish, two shots out of a playoff won by Japan’s Tsubasa Kajitani on the first extra hole over Emilia Migliaccio.
With six players tying for second, just a shot back, it was an eventful second nine.
Welcome to Augusta National, which always supplies drama over those closing holes of any event it holds. And the Augusta National Women’s Amateur was back after it was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Among the leaders, there was a triple bogey and a double bogey — by Kajitani on the 17th hole — and a couple of clutch birdies on a course that played tough.
We’re only five months removed from the 2020 Masters, but curiosity is never in short supply when it comes to this place. After Dustin Johnson torched it in November, setting a tournament scoring record of 20 under par, there has been plenty of conjecture as to what the lords of Augusta might do in setting up their course.
If Saturday was any indication, it won’t be easy.
The greens appear far firmer than in the fall, and the rough is not as deep, allowing balls to run further away from the fairway and into more trouble. Given some dry conditions over the next couple of days, Augusta National has the potential to be the firm, fast, fiery test that allows for plenty of nerve-inducing possibilities.
That was the case on Saturday. The stage itself is enough to make anyone tremble. On Saturday, the course played at 6,365 yards; it will be at 7,475 yards for the par-72 Masters layout. The setup for the Women’s Amateur was basically how the members play the course, with a couple of notable differences of 120 yards (330 to 450) at the par-4 seventh and 105 yards (400 to 505) at the par-4 11th.
Throw in a national television audience and the return of the patrons — granted a smaller number — and it was a day those playing won’t soon forget.
“Beautiful, amazing,” said Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, a sophomore at the University of South Carolina who missed a playoff by a stroke. “I would like to have so many words to describe how happy I am to be here. It was just wonderful, beautiful, so perfect.”
Kajitani is just 17 and was far more nervous speaking about her victory than she was in achieving it. Already a veteran of several LPGA Japan Tour events, she began the final round two shots behind leader Rose Zhang. She shot even-par 72, overcoming a potentially crushing double bogey on the 17th hole and then nearly holing her pitch shot at the 18th before settling for a par and a tie with Migliaccio, a senior at Wake Forest.
“It was so fun,” Migliaccio said. “It was so special. That’s all I wanted to do. I really wanted to enjoy this moment with my mom and this is probably one of the last times she’s going to caddie for me and it was just a joy to be out there with her. The course was spectacular and it was awesome to have played well on top of it and to be competing at the highest level on the best course in the universe was truly an honor.”
Such sentiment was common over the past two days. One of the unique aspects of the event is that after the 82-player field played 36 holes at nearby Champions Retreat Golf Club and then cutting to the top 30, all were welcomed to a Friday practice round at Augusta National.
For those who didn’t make it to Saturday, it was still an opportunity to experience a golf rarity. And for those who did, not only did it provide an opportunity to prepare, but it gave them two rounds at the home of the Masters.
“Even playing the practice round, you just feel so much joy,” Migliaccio said. “I feel for everyone who didn’t make the cut because it is every girl’s dream who is a golfer to play a competitive round here. And I know how much it stings. But it really motivated me this year. … Even when watching the Masters, it’s just going to be so special just knowing I played a competitive round. It’s just such a dream for all of us to be out here.”
Two years ago in the inaugural event, Jennifer Kupcho eagled the 13th hole on her way to a final-round 67 and victory. This time, it was more about survival. It was still compelling. And that’s Augusta National.
That is not to say the Women’s Amateur does not have some issues. It would clearly be nice if all 54 holes could be played here, instead of just 18. Being played the same week as the LPGA’s first major championship of the year, the ANA Inspiration, forces some top amateurs to decide between two prestigious tournaments. And, of course, there has long been talk of playing a professional women’s event here.
All important discussion points. Still, what played out Saturday was a good day.