For a few days at Augusta National, the spotlight shines on women

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Anna Davis had just turned 12 when a surprise Augusta National Golf Club announced it would create a new National Women’s Amateur Championship. On Saturday, now 16, Davis won the tournament.

Annika Sorenstam, who has won 10 major LPGA championships, attended the club’s 2018 press conference when Augusta National officials said they wanted the 54-hole tournament to benefit women’s golf for all levels.

“It’s a dream come true,” Sorenstam said at the time. “It will be an exciting carrot for these young fans.”

Sorenstam sat behind the first tee on Saturday as Rachel Kuehn, who was 16 when the tournament was created, teeed off in the final round.

“I turned around and Annika Sorenstam was there and I thought, Oh my God, I have to hit the fairway,” Kuehn, who would finish seventh, later said. “I didn’t go to the fairway, but it was really cool to see her and so many people supporting women’s golf. That’s what this tournament was supposed to do.

Amari Avery was 14 when Augusta National announced the event, which included the news that the National Women’s Amateur Championship would be broadcast live on NBC the weekend before the Masters Tournament began.

“The very first year they played there, I saw how electric it was and made it my goal to be part of that atmosphere from second second,” Avery said on Saturday after finishing tied. in fourth place.

While Augusta National’s intention was to benefit women’s golf, particularly on the junior circuit, Kuehn, whose mother, Brenda, was an avid amateur who would have loved to play competitive golf at Augusta National, and Avery, whose father is black and mother is Filipino, each insisted that the club’s relatively new amateur championship is achieving its goal.

“It’s just amazing,” Kuehn said. “It’s a testament to what Augusta National is doing here.”

Avery, whose appearance nine years ago in a Netflix documentary about elite elementary school golfers earned him comparisons to Tiger Woods, said Augusta’s national tournament was “huge”.

“It’s hard to find words for how much of an impact this has had on amateur women’s golf,” she said. “Seeing all these people lined up and cheering and cheering us on is how it should be and it’s a step in the right direction for sure.”

Andre Avery, Amari’s father, saw the symbolism.

“For my daughter to turn on the television years ago and see young women playing on the golf course where the Masters is being played, I mean that was a turning point for her,” Avery said. “And today, for African-American kids watching TV and seeing someone who looks like them on the same journey, that’s also very important. It’s important for them to see that.”

The first Augusta National Women’s Amateur was held in 2019 and the 2020 event was canceled by the pandemic, which also prevented participation in the 2021 tournament. But on Saturday, the crowds at Augusta National, who began admitting female members in 2012, was warm, with galleries around the 10-deep closing holes with fans. (Augusta National does not publish attendance figures.)

“I’ve never played in front of such a large crowd,” Davis said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Brenda Kuehn couldn’t help but notice how many women were in attendance – and how many had brought their elementary school and pre-teen daughters, who swarmed around the golfers as they finished their rounds, demanding autographs.

“I gave my golf ball to a little girl as I walked off the 18th green today and I don’t know if she understood what was going on but the look and smile on her face was a beautiful thing “, Ingrid Lindblad of Sweden, who finished tied for second, said.

Lindblad, a junior on the Louisiana State golf team, said one of her teachers even knew she would be competing at the legendary golf club.

“Not many people normally talk to me about one of our college tournaments,” Lindblad said. “Only family and close friends go. But that’s what makes this tournament different. There is no doubt that it has raised the profile of women’s golf. And it will continue to have positive effects.

Kuehn’s coach at Wake Forest University, Kim Lewellen, said she has seen an increase in attendance at junior girls’ camps and in the number of female recruits who have contacted her since the tournament began. She credits the appeal of seeing women at a renowned golf course and the fact that it is contested on the weekend before the Masters is played.

There are other prominent American women’s amateur championships, such as the US Women’s Amateur, first played in 1895, but Augusta National seems to have taken a distinctive place.

“It’s the platform,” said Avery Southern California golf coach Justin Silverstein. “Arguably everyone in golf has heard of Augusta National and even most casual sports fans have heard of The Masters. It’s the most recognizable golf course in the world.

“Young female golfers look to NBC, and it’s another huge platform, and they see people who look like them – or people who aren’t that far from them – and they think: maybe I can do that too.”

Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Davis, who shares her March 17 birthday with Bobby Jones, one of the Augusta National founders who died in 1971, said Saturday she only heard about the event last year — when she watched it on TV.

“It made me very excited to try and be part of this event,” she said. “Then I was excited when I found out I was going to play here.”

She is now the tournament champion.