AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | Ana Belac, a Duke University junior from Slovenia, stepped to the tee of Augusta National’s famed par-3 12th hole on Friday, stuck a 7-iron shot to 5 feet and proceeded to make the birdie putt.
It’s a memory she’ll cherish, one of many forged by the competitors in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, who got their first taste of the home of the Masters in a Friday practice round. Although only 30 of the 72 entrants will play in Saturday’s final round at Augusta National, the entire field played Augusta on Friday.
Belac didn’t make the 36-hole cut after rounds of 80-72 at Champions Retreat Golf Club, but that didn’t matter on Friday.
“It was nothing like I could ever imagine,” said Belac, 22. “Playing (Augusta National) after seeing it on TV so many times, it was surreal.
“It’s hard to describe in words what today meant because I never expected it to be that special. So it’s just hitting me right now.”
Belac was nervous on the first tee, she said, but as the day went on she became more comfortable, as evidenced by her birdie at No. 12, the picturesque hole known as Golden Bell.
“I will be very happy watching (the final-round telecast) and saying, whoa, I made a birdie there,” Belac said.
“It’s everything women’s golf needs. … I just really hope that this tournament will inspire the next generations.” – Sierra Brooks
Friday’s tee times started a 8 a.m. off Nos. 1 and 10, and in the days leading up to the practice round, the weather forecast looked grim. But it was as if Mother Nature knew this was bigger than her – after the early rain subsided, there was a glimmer of morning sun that yielded to a cloudy, dry afternoon.
Amid the thrill of playing Augusta National for the first time, sentimentality collided with practicality. Kaitlyn Papp, a 20-year-old University of Texas sophomore who will enter the final round tied for third place at 3-under par, two strokes behind leader Jennifer Kupcho, was wrestling with a caddie quandary – namely, should she employ a local caddie with intimate knowledge of Augusta National for the final round or her father, Tony, who caddied for her during the first two rounds?
“I think I just want to keep my options open and just think about what’s best for me,” Papp said. “And honestly, I feel like it would be a really cool experience for (my dad) to be on the bag since he’s been with me the whole journey of golf.”
Sierra Brooks, a 20-year-old University of Florida junior who also enters the final round two strokes off the lead, gave her long irons a workout during her Friday jaunt around Augusta National.
“Honestly, I thought this length was a great challenge,” Brooks said. “The par-5s … I tried to go for it on most of them. I pretty much could reach all of them (in two), but you know, obviously it’s going to be what’s the smart play in the tournament.”
After preparing for the test that awaits her Saturday, Brooks took a few moments to reflect on what it means to be among the women breaking new ground by competing at Augusta National.
“It’s huge,” Brooks said. “It’s everything women’s golf needs. I’m just so honored that I get to be a part of this historic event … and I just really hope that this tournament will inspire the next generations.”
Ana Belac of Sloevnia and Duke University plays her tee shot on the third hole during Thursday’s second round of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur at Champions Retreat Golf Club. Photo: David Cannon, Getty Images
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