Quartet of LPGA legends to hit opening tee shots Saturday at Women's Amateur
The announcement from Augusta National came last week that World Golf Hall of Famers Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak and Lorena Ochoa would be hitting tee shots in a special first tee ceremony before Saturday's first group goes off at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
The batting order, as requested by Augusta National, is now known: It will be Pak, Ochoa, Lopez and Sorenstam.
“They told us at lunch and we almost lost it,” Lopez said Friday.
Of the four, Pak was the last to retire, in October 2016.
“I think first time in long time get nervous,” she said. “Seriously, after I retire, it’s like I’m a rookie for the retired players. First thing up tomorrow, but like I said, very excited, but at the same time, I have honor to be lead and first nervous in a long time. I don’t know if I can sleep tonight.”
The four legends were asked if they would try to outdrive the other one.
“I think when they did the press conference in New York last week, my thing was, OK, I have to hit it past my three competitors, because I think you always stay competitive,” Lopez said. “Even though I realistically probably can’t, I’m going to try, but it will be fun.
“It’s such an honor and when they asked us to be a part of it, it’s a thrill for me, to be a professional golfer for so long and to enjoy this great game and to really watch these ladies compete, they are great players.”
“I think it is very special to have the four of us together,” Ochoa said. “I grew up admiring the three of you a lot and being good friends here together is a special day for all of us.”
GALLERY PRESENT: It will be a little bit different for the 30 players in Saturday's final round when they arrive on the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club. Make that a lot different.
They played a practice round at a quiet Augusta National on Friday when there were no fans allowed on the course.
Spectactors will be out in force for Saturday’s final round, though just how many isn’t known because Augusta National doesn’t reveal attendance information.
“I think for me, because I’ve played in the U.S. Open and the (LPGA Tour’s) Marathon Classic, I’ve kind of been around that so I think it won’t be too bad,” said leader Jennifer Kupcho. “I mean, it might be different when I get there, and there’s all the fans watching us, but for right now, I think it will be OK.”
Maria Fassi, who is one shot off Kupcho’s lead, welcomes the anticipated large gallery Saturday.
“I think it’s amazing that not only I get to play at Augusta National, but I get to play it in front of the amount of people that there’s going to be out there,” Fassi said. “So it’s going to be really exciting to be out there, and hopefully we can put on a show for them. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
While Kupcho and Fassi are ranked Nos. 1 and 9, respectively, in women’s amateur golf and have played in front of galleries in pro and college events, it will be a new experience for 16-year-old Zoe Campos, who is four shots off the lead.
“I haven’t really played in front of a huge crowd, but I have had like some small crowds out there,” she said this week at Champions Retreat, where she was the first-round co-leader with Kupcho at 68 before shooting 75 in the second round.
“But having the opportunity to play in front of an even bigger crowd (at Augusta National), I’m looking forward to that,” Campos said “It would be really exciting and something I’ve never seen before, and it would be a good way to test how I play out there.”
FIRST WINNER: One of the perks for the winner Saturday is a five-year exemption into this tournament. Kupcho and Fassi are both seniors who have earned LPGA Tour cards so they won’t be back if they win because they will have turned pro.
The next three players in the standings, who are two shots off the lead, are underclassmen and would be expected to return. Pimnipa Panthong and Sierra Brooks are juniors at Kent State and Florida, respectively. And Kaitlyn Papp is a sophomore at Texas.
CASE OF NERVES: Fassi said just the history of Augusta National can be intimidating. She realized it when she and her group played the par-3 12th hole in Friday’s practice round.
“I was on 12 tee and I was shaking,” she said. “I was like, ‘it is a practice round. Like why are you shaking?’ I mean, just the amount of history that there is out here, it’s amazing. We’re just really lucky to be out here.”
She said all three members of the group hit the green, “so like high-five to all of us, and ‘let’s go.’”