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Posted April 5, 2019, 4:03 pm
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Fred Ridley: Augusta National Women's Amateur exceeds expectations

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    Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament Chairman Fred Ridley admires the championship trophy on display on the first tee during the first round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur at Champions Retreat Golf Club on Wednesday. [MICHAEL HOLAHAN/THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

Fred Ridley thought he had a good idea when he came up with the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, but it really hit home this week when 72 of the world’s top female amateurs converged on Augusta.

“When it’s on a piece of paper, you have facts and figures and you have expectations created it’s kind of on that level,” Ridley said Friday. “But when you add the human element to it and the emotions and you see the expressions on the faces. ... Seeing the smiles on the faces and the joy, I guess that’s the right word, you can’t really put on a piece of paper.”

The inaugural event has exceeded the expectations of Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, as well as the competitors.

“I was out on the golf course (Friday) talking to a couple of them and asked that specific question, how’s the week gone, what did you think when you got here this morning,” Ridley said. “To a person, they said expectations were exceeded.”

The entire field got the chance to play a practice round at Augusta National on Friday. The first two rounds of the tournament were played at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Evans, and the stage shifts to Augusta National for today’s final round of the 54-hole event. The field was cut to the top 30 players after the second round.

Ridley, who announced the tournament at his “State of the Masters” address last year, praised Champions Retreat for playing host earlier in the week.

“We were so pleased just from a competition standpoint that the golf course, and in particular the greens, were playing almost identical to what they’re going to see (Saturday),” Ridley said. “That speaks volumes for their greens superintendent and staff, working with ours, getting that in championship condition.”

Saturday begins with a special ceremony on the first tee as World Golf Hall of Famers Nancy Lopez, Lorena Ochoa, Se Ri Pak and Annika Sorenstam are scheduled to hit tee shots. The first pairing of the day begins at 8 a.m., and NBC will televise the final round beginning at noon.

One of the highlights of the week for Ridley came Tuesday night when Augusta National held a dinner for players and their families in the Founders Room.

“I think the only word I can use is magical,” he said. “It really was. We had a wonderful dinner. We had a three-four minute video about Bobby Jones because a lot of these women, they’re young enough that they probably don’t know a lot about him, but I think it’s important that we explain the culture and heritage and history of this club. How we started and how he was the greatest amateur of all time.

Ridley said it was “gratifying” to see the pride exhibited by the players’ parents or grandparents.

“There was a long line after the dinner to thank us for doing this,” he said. “It’s been great.”

In the last decade, beginning with former chairman Billy Payne, Augusta National has created a number of events to grow the game. Those include the Asia-Pacific Amateur, the Latin America Amateur and the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals which are held the Sunday before the Masters at Augusta National.

Ridley succeeded Payne in the fall of 2017, and a few months later announced the creation of the women’s amateur. He hopes that playing the iconic venue will “be somewhat infectious and inspiring to other people.”

“The other part of what I’ve been focusing on the last few days, from a larger sense, and I think our sponsors have realized this and emphasized this, is focusing on women’s accomplishments in general, not just in golf and sports,” he said. “It kind of leads you to think about or recognizing that as well. I think anything that does that is good for society, I think it’s good for everybody.”

The club’s membership and several of the men playing in next week’s Masters have been totally supportive, Ridley said.

“I don’t think there’s one day, and I’ve been here a lot, there’s not one day that someone has not come up to me and said, ‘Way to go,’” Ridley said. “That really makes me feel good.”

After the club gets past this weekend and the Masters, Ridley said he will turn his attention to what’s next.

“I really think that all of this is really only limited by one’s own imagination,” he said. “I will say we have been blessed with resources, and I think we have an obligation to utilize them, not only to improve this place and therefore what we do for the Masters Tournament, but to give back to all segments of the game.”