AUGUSTA, Ga. — Twenty-four months and 54 holes later, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur crowned its second-ever champion on Saturday afternoon. Tsubasa Kajitani, a 17-year-old Japanese national who hadn’t won an amateur event in nearly two years, survived the first playoff in the tournament’s history, besting Emilia Migliaccio on the 55th hole.
In just its second iteration, the ANWA played host to a quintessentially Augusta final round. Amen Corner proved particularly challenging, with Rae’s Creek claiming tee shots from both of Saturday’s favorites, Olivia Mehaffey and Rose Zhang. In their absence, a frantic leaderboard shift ensued. At one point shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, four women were tied for the lead coming down the closing stretch.
“I mean, everyone playing was in contention basically,” Zhang said after a T3 finish. “To handle the pressure of just being on television and just playing at Augusta National, I think says a lot.”
On the Saturday afternoon before the Masters, you’d be hard-pressed to find better drama anywhere in the sports world. Here are five takeaways from a raucous final round.
Worth watching, period.
The group of largely unknown amateurs in the ANWA field entered with the goal of honoring the “women worth watching” moniker adopted by the women’s game in recent months. To that end, they succeeded, but watching the drama unfold at Amen Corner on Saturday, one couldn’t help but wonder if that phrase might not have reached far enough.
The Augusta National Women’s Amateur didn’t showcase just women worth watching — it showcased a golf tournament worth watching, period. For any sports fan, and particularly for any golf fan, the ANWA showed the very best of one of the greatest cathedrals in sports.
It was heartening to see NBC cover the event with the justice it deserved — three full hours of national airtime, some taken away from the network’s coverage of the Valero Texas Open, especially given the importance of establishing the Women’s Amateur as a staple in the golf schedule.
An understandable Augusta National
Watching Augusta on Saturday, it was incredibly striking how normal the golf looked. Now, that’s not to say the course was any less beautiful, intimidating or challenging for those involved. It is to say that watching the women play from the member tees (or thereabout) gave a newfound appreciation for the brilliance of Alister MacKenzie’s routing.
The Women’s Amateur gave those in attendance a chance to see the ingenuity of the course in its originally intended design. The short walk from flagstick to tee box, the importance of finding the proper side of the fairway for a successful approach, even the subtlety and the complexity of the greens. It’s awesome to see the men blast their tee shots over the trees, but there was something special about watching the women play long-irons from the fairway on par-4s the way the course’s founders intended.
This ain’t November’s Augusta
There’s been some speculation that Augusta National is going to play a little tougher than it did in November, when Dustin Johnson set a course record en route to his first green jacket. After just one round at the ANWA, it’s clear that speculation is well-founded. The 30-player field recorded 149 bogeys-or-worse en route to a scoring average of 75.233 at Augusta National. As for the course conditions, the rough looked thick if not long, and the greens were back to their traditionally devilish form.
Several players commented after Saturday’s round about the speed and subtlety of the putting surfaces, even after rain in the Augusta area earlier this week. On more than a handful of occasions, players in the final few groups ran downhill putts several feet past the hole.
“I think Augusta National is going to tell everything about golf,” Kajitani said through an interpreter after her round. “When I missed the green, it will be really hard to recover and get up-and-down.”
The best way to see the action?
There may be no better viewing experience in golf than at the Women’s Amateur. The crowds are small, the stakes are high, the views are incredible, and the concessions are still ridiculously cheap. Following the final group on Sunday, one could easily find a position along the ropes of most holes. For a serious competitive round at one of the most celebrated golf courses in the world, you couldn’t do much better.
A sign of things to come
The men don’t return to action until Thursday, but one could sense the anticipation building throughout the week at the ANWA. The event increases the amount of time the world spends watching golf at Augusta National by 20 percent — that’s a good thing. It’d be even better if that number continues to expand in the years to come.
“I think my biggest takeaway is just being able to stay in the mix and really allow myself to enjoy every moment out on this golf course,” Zhang said. “This is Augusta National. I think it’s our responsibility to be excited and happy to be on this golf course and to be able to be in contention.”
The Women’s Amateur is a tremendous event for golf. It’s also a tremendous opportunity for its participants. Now, it’s up to the powers that be to ensure it earns staying power in one form or the other.