Jennifer Kupcho outduels Maria Fassi for Augusta National Women's Amateur title
There was high drama in the pines until almost the very end as women took center stage for the first time at Augusta National Golf Club.
Wake Forest senior Jennifer Kupcho outdueled Arkansas senior Maria Fassi down the stretch in Saturday’s final round to win the inaugural 54-hole Augusta National Women’s Amateur by four shots.
PHOTOS: Women's Amateur Final Round
As the No. 1-ranked women's amateur, Kupcho was given the honor of hitting the first tee shot in tournament history in Wednesday’s first round at Champions Retreat Golf Club, where the first two rounds were played.
“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. And then to be able to hit the last putt and to win, it’s just amazing,” she said.
Just as so many Masters Tournaments have been decided on the closing holes, Kupcho and Fassi put on a similar show in the first-ever women’s competition at Augusta National.
“With Maria in the final group with me, I think both of us kind of just wanted to send the message that golf is about having friends, and to be out there with her, we were cheering each other on, and that’s kind of how golf is supposed to be,” Kupcho said. “And to make it look fun; it is fun. So to make it look that way for everyone watching, I hope it encourages people to pick up a club and go play.”
As they predicted after Friday’s practice round at Augusta National, there were plenty of fireworks at the course, which played to 6,365 yards for the women, who played the members tees. Playing in the final group of the day, Kupcho and Fassi combined for nine birdies and an eagle.
Kupcho had four birdies to go with the eagle and one bogey for 5-under-par 67.
She came into the final round as the leader after rounds of 68-71 at Champions Retreat and finished at 10-under 206. Fassi was at 70-70-140 after two rounds.
Kupcho did it Saturday despite playing with blurred vision on four holes (Nos. 8-11), where she relied on Augusta National caddie Brian McKinley to guide her along.
Fassi, who trailed by one shot entering the final round, led Kupcho by two shots after playing the first 10 holes in 3-under. She played the final eight in 1-over for 70 to finish at 201, and Kupcho played her final nine in 32.
“I knew it was going to be a battle like that; there’s a reason why she’s No. 1 in the world,” said Fassi, an Arkansas golfer ranked No. 9 in the world. “I knew who I was playing against, and it was just so much fun. We joked at the beginning. ‘We’re like, let’s make sure we put up a show for people and we did.’ I always said if I lose, I want to lose to you and not anyone else.
“She’s great,” Fassi said of Kupcho. “We do have a long career ahead of us. I know we will be walking down the 18th fairway in the last group on the last day a lot more times.”
Fassi, who had fellow Mexican and Hall of Famer Lorena Ochoa in her gallery, was proud of the way she played.
“I know I left it out there; I gave it all I had,” she said. “I stayed true to myself and played aggressive.”
Before a national television audience and large galleries, Kupcho and Fassi quickly turned the 30-player final round into a two-woman show. They so outdistanced the rest of the field that third-place finishers Yuka Saso (69 on Saturday) and Jessica Yasuda (72) finished eight shots behind Kupcho. Saso is a 17-year-old from the Philippines and a Georgia recruit, while Yasuda is a 21-year-old junior at Missouri.
Despite making a bogey on the opening hole, Fassi took the lead with a birdie on No. 8, her second in a row and fourth of the side.
She made the turn in 3-under-par 33 to 35 for Kupcho and led her by a shot heading into the back nine.
Fassi’s lead went to two over Kupcho after Kupcho missed a 3-foot downhill par putt, which she chalked up to her blurred vision.
“I said, ‘Hey, you got it. Relax. There’s nothing you can do.’ And I think going through my head, I just knew that the blurriness would go away, and then I know it just comes with a bad headache after, so I was going to be able to recover.”
She did, after the 11th hole. Feeling better, Kupcho turned the tide on the par-5 13th hole. Facing 211 yards to the hole for her second shot, she hit “probably one of the best shots I’ve ever hit.” It found the green and she made a medium-length putt for eagle to pull even with Fassi.
After Fassi birdied No. 14, Kupcho rocketed past her by picking up three shots in two holes. With a birdie-birdie burst on Nos. 15 and 16 to par-bogey for Fassi, Kupcho went from one behind to two shots ahead with two holes to play. They both parred No. 17, but Kupcho closed it out with a birdie on No. 18 to Fassi’s bogey for the final four-shot margin.