The 6 biggest storylines to follow at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur
By virtue of its very existence, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur is a historic event. The second-ever ANWA will be played this week — a three-day, 54-hole stroke play event split between Champions Retreat Golf Club and historic Augusta National in Augusta, Ga.
In addition to signaling the return of golf to Augusta, Ga. in the month of April, this week marks two years since the inaugural playing of the event. In that tournament in 2019, Jennifer Kupcho outdueled Maria Fassi in a dazzling final round en route to becoming the first-ever ANWA champion. In March of 2020, the Covid pandemic forced tournament organizers to cancel the event for the year, dashing the tournament hopes of many of the game’s top amateurs, who had plans to turn pro within the following 12 months.
The 2021 ANWA will look different from both its predecessor and successors, and not just because of pandemic-era precautions. Augusta National has modified its qualification requirements to honor those who’d earned a spot in the field in 2020 (so long as they retained their amateur status), meaning this year’s event will feature more than a dozen more players than the 2019 iteration.
Below are five storylines worth keeping your eyes on throughout the week at the second-ever ANWA; Golf Channel and NBC will handle tournament coverage from both Champions Retreat and Augusta National.
1) Who makes the cut?
Each player who participates in the ANWA gets to play at Augusta National, but not everyone gets to play a competitive round. With the first 36 holes of the tournament at Champions Retreat, just over half the field at the ANWA (some 52 players) will be eliminated before the tournament reaches Augusta National. This is due to the cutline, which will more than halve the field following the completion of play on Thursday. At that point, the top 30 players in the field will advance to the final round at ANGC, with playoffs deciding any ties.
While the cutline sets the stage for terrific drama on Thursday afternoon, Friday is (mostly) about fun. After the final-round field is cemented at Champions Retreat, the tournament participants will head down Magnolia Lane, where each ANWA attendee is invited to participate in a practice round at Augusta National. For those who don’t make the cut, the round will mark an opportunity to enjoy an afternoon stroll around some of the golf world’s most-hallowed ground. For those who do, it’ll be the final opportunity to learn the contours and challenges of Alister Mackenzie’s design.
2) Super Seniors
Ten players in the field at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur are Super Seniors — which is another way of saying that each are fifth-year seniors who were granted an extra year of eligibility into collegiate competition by virtue of the pandemic. For those ten, the ANWA represents one final chance at glory before turning to the professional ranks.
Still, they’re hardly the only experienced competitors in this year’s field. The ANWA returns 11 players from the 30 who played to the weekend at the inaugural tournament.
3) What’s going on with USC Women’s Golf?
Speaking purely on a percentage basis, no college program in the country has better odds of winning the Women’s Amateur than USC. The Trojans have six (6!) players in the 64-woman field, including three players in the top 50 in the Women’s Amateur Golf Ranking.
4) Big broadcast potential, but a small window
Good news first: Between the ANA Inspiration and the ANWA, women’s golf will occupy two major national television windows this weekend, just a handful of days removed from the Masters. The bad news? The ANWA’s window will encompass only three hours of Saturday’s final round on NBC.
Of course, the Masters used to occupy a minuscule television schedule relative to the tournament’s size and popularity. As the ANWA continues to grow in popularity, every big-time broadcast minute will meaningful for the event’s future — particularly at a venue like Augusta National.
5) A fitting underdog
Of the 82 players in the field at the ANWA, the only NCAA Division II player is the University of Tampa’s Kiira Riihijarvi. Riihijarvi, a Finnish pro, was named her conference player of the year and won a handful of events in Southern Florida. She enters the week the 39th-ranked amateur in the world.
6) Rose Zhang returns among the favorites
Rose Zhang enters the ANWA the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion after a heart-stopping win in August, and fresh off earning low amateur honors in her first top-20 major finish at the 2020 ANA Inspiration. Zhang, who is still only 17 years old, enters her second ANWA the top-ranked women’s amateur in the world. She heads off to Stanford to play golf in the fall, but first the Irvine, Calif. native will look to close out an incredible high school run with a win at Augusta National.