Wednesday, April 4th, 2018. A day prior to the 82nd Masters Tournament getting underway, a sudden announcement was played over the tannoy in the media centre – and it took the room completely by surprise.
“Beginning next year, we will invite 72 of the game’s best women amateur golfers from around the world to compete in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship,” declared Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National.
It marked an unprecedented move from the club, especially given that it only admitted its first two female members – former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and businesswoman Darla Moore – in August 2012.
The event, Ridley hopes, will ‘inspire greater interest and participation in the women’s game by creating a new, exciting and rewarding pathway for these players to fulfill their dreams’.
It has already had that effect on 17-year-old Lily May Humphreys, one of four golfers from the UK taking part, alongside compatriots Alice Hewson, 21 and Annabell Fuller, 16, as well as Olivia Mehaffey, 21, from Northern Ireland.
“When I first heard about the event, it sounded amazing and it immediately became a goal of mine to qualify,” the teenager, who represented Great Britain in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, told bunkered.
“When the invite
arrived, I was out practising at my golf club [Stoke-by-Nayland] and my dad
drove there to give the invite to me. The envelope had the Augusta National logo on it and it was such a thrill, especially as it looked just like the invitations the men get to the Masters. It’s definitely one for the scrapbook.”
To actually play at Augusta National in the tournament will take a bit of work for Humphreys and Co., however. For the 54-hole strokeplay event, the first 36 holes will be contested over two days at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Augusta.
Only the top 30 competitors will make the cut for the final round at Augusta National on Saturday, April 6 and, if any of the English trio make progress, it will mark the first time an England Golf female player has played a tournament on the course.
The Augusta National dream won’t be shattered for the 42 players who
don’t make the final day, though. On Friday, April 5, the entire field will play the course for an official practice round. For Humphreys, who only took up golf after a chance trip to a Topgolf facility with her brother when she was ten, it is something she can scarcely believe.
“I only started playing golf six years ago – now I’m among the first women to play in a tournament at Augusta. I feel very honoured and proud. I’ve already had so many great moments in the game and playing at Augusta National will be right up there.
“I am really hoping to make the cut but even if I only get to play the practice round, it will still be very special for me.”
In the professional game, the leading female golfers will likely look upon the ANWA with mixed emotions: happiness that a women’s event will finally be played on a course that has hosted men since 1934, but sadness that they have never had the opportunity to compete there. It also takes place at the same time as the first women’s major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, meaning a battle for media coverage.
“I was a little disappointed to hear that only one day would be played at Augusta National,” said Michelle Wie. “However, it’s great to open the door and hopefully, one day, we could have a professional event there. That would be amazing.”
The only other downside is that, according to Humphreys, participation in the event doesn’t include tickets for the Masters the following week. As a result, they are flying back the day after the competition.
That’s a shame but coming home after teeing it up on one of the world’s most famous courses will probably help to cushion the blow.