06 April 2019: Augusta National Golf Club welcomed spring with a celebration of golf, with women at the centre of it. The grand venue has come a long way since finally accepting Condoleezza Rice as its first woman member. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur drew thousands of eager fans to the hallowed grounds. Wake Forest senior and World No.1 Jennifer Kupcho and University of Arkansas senior Maria Fassi played with a great sense of occasion, befitting the grand stage of their final round duel in the inaugural edition of this event. In the end, though, there had to be one winner and it turned out to be the Wake Forest senior who marched home to a four-stroke victory.
With the NCAA Golf Championship set to be played at the Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, hosted by the University of Arkansas, the duo delayed moving into the LPGA, but there was no waiting for either woman today at the Augusta National. They played with gay abandon and steely nerves to produce some truly world-class golf on a day marked by great sportsmanship from both the girls despite the tense standoff for the historic prize.
The trailing groups were holding on to dear life on this demanding course, leaving the final day spotlight to the two women at the front. Kupcho’s advantage grew to two strokes when Fassi began her day with a bogey. The two women have tremendous length off the tee and the par-5 second turned out to be revealing about the battle that was just about taking shape.
Maria took advantage of reaching the green in two by making a measured birdie. Meanwhile, Jennifer had struck a flat, low approach straight into the right bunker on the line of the pin. She hit the wedge too thick on the first attempt, remaining in the bunker. Undeterred she extricated herself from the pickle to save par. The intense battle for honours remained true through the rest of the day.
The lead reversed sides for the first time when Maria flew in front at the par-5 eighth hole. The duel seemed to have taken a decisive turn when Jennifer made a bogey at the 10th hole, sending Maria ahead by two. But then the relentless Wake Forest golfer produced a moment of magic that will remain on the highlights collection for a while yet.
Jennifer played a hybrid for a near perfect approach on the 13th that flew toward the flag with the precision of a laser guided missile. The American drew even with that eagle and gained a swing in momentum that would prove decisive. A birdie at the 16th after flying her tee shot to the foot of the pin and three-putt by Fassi separated these two women by two strokes.
The Mexican drew on all her reserves to try and make things happen with an aggressive effort at the final two holes. But she missed a long birdie putt on the 17th and flew her driver into the fairway bunker at the 18th.
Jennifer marched serenely as if walking toward a destiny she has known all along, reached the green in two as a large crowd applauded her on their feet. She finished it off in emphatic style too. The American sank a 12 footer on the 18th to claw even farther to win the title by a handsome four-stroke margin over her Mexican rival.
“It’s always a great feeling to win,” said Kupcho. “But I think to win at Augusta National, just to get to walk the fairways and walk up 18 with as many fans as there were, it’s an experience like none other.”
The reigning NCAA individual champion punctuated her victory with a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
“I think, first of all, for me to hit the first tee shot of the tournament, just to open it up, it was a great honor to be able to do that,” said Kupcho, who hit the very first drive of the inaugural championship in the first round Wednesday. “And then to be able to hit the last putt and to win, it’s just amazing. It’s an amazing feeling, to have my brother here, to have my parents here, everyone out there supporting me. It was quite a day.”
Only nine golfers finished under par, with Maria Fassi trailing the winner by four strokes at 6-under after a bogey at the 18th. The Mexican finished with three 70s while Jennifer Kupcho rallied ahead with scores of 68-71-67 for her winning score of 10-under 139.
“I knew it was going to be like that. I knew who I was playing against. We were joking and having a laugh. We just wanted to make sure we put up a show for people and we did,” said the University of Arkansas senior and 2018 ANNIKA Award winner as top collegiate female golfer.
“I’m extremely proud of what I did, and I am proud of Jennifer for getting that win. That’s the kind of player she is. That’s one of the things I admire and respect most about her. She’s not afraid of going for it. She’s not afraid to be great, and that’s what makes her great.
“We battled hard and we had fun. I think that’s what women’s golf should look like every Sunday.”
The international field, which included 72 players from 25 countries at the start of the championship, was well-represented on the leader board. Four strokes behind runner-up Fassi was Yuka Saso (69) of the Philippines, the reigning Asian Games gold medalist, and Japan’s Yuka Yasuda (72), who tied for third place at two-under 214.
Zoe Campos (72), one of the youngest players in the field at age 16, and Kaitlyn Papp (74) were tied for fifth at one-under-par 215. Sweden’s Beatrice Wallin, Haylee Harford and Haley Moore tied for seventh at even-par 216. Sierra Brooks and Alice Hewson rounded out the top 10, finishing at one-over 217.