Opening ceremony filled with emotions at Augusta National Women's Amateur
Standing on No. 1 tee box, Nancy Lopez glanced toward a teary-eyed Annika Sörenstam and nodded.
“I was trying to handle my emotions at first,” Lopez said. “I wasn’t sure if it was OK to cry, but when I saw Annika tearing up I couldn't contain them. It was very emotional. It’s hard to put into words how much this means.”
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Lopez and Sorenstam were joined by Lorena Ochoa and Se Ri Pak as part of the inaugural First Tee Ceremony to commence the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. The Hall of Fame members combined for 172 LPGA victories and 20 major championships — 10 by Sörenstam — during their careers.
Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley opened the ceremony, while former chairman Billy Payne and club member Condoleezza Rice were among those who watched from the front row.
“It was a lot better than I thought,” Ochoa said. “All the emotions once you get up there, the people cheering and clapping, all those moments, they come back and you get goosebumps. I'm going to remember this forever.”
Pak was first to tee off and found the second cut on the left. Lopez and Ochoa each hit the fairway, while Sorenstam’s ball landed in the right fairway bunker.
According to Lopez, “I haven't felt that kind of pressure in a long, long time.”
“I woke up about quarter till 5 a.m. and warmed up in the shower, getting some nice heat on my body,” said Lopez, laughing. “There's a lot of things going through my head on the practice tee but when I got out there on the first tee, I just got focused on the ball.”
Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson was the lone competitor in the Masters field to attend Saturday’s ceremony. Watson watched from No. 1 tee box and stayed until 8:25 a.m. to shake hands with the first three groupings of the women’s amateur final round.
“Right when they announced this was going to happen I told my wife, ‘I have to be there. I can’t miss this,’ ” Watson said. “I have a 4-year-old daughter (Dakota) and to see a moment like this at Augusta National is so significant — not only to women but to little girls everywhere.”
Hundreds of patrons attended the ceremony, including University of Georgia women’s golf coach, Josh Brewer. Brewer, who’s been UGA’s coach since 2012, watched from behind the tee box.
“I can’t praise Augusta National enough for being at the forefront of this movement,” Brewer said. “I mean, 40 years ago Title IX was barely in existence and now you have women playing and competing at Augusta National. I don’t think the importance of this event can be overstated. I was getting emotional watching (Lopez, Sörenstam, Ochoa and Pak) and I promise I wasn’t the only one.”
For Lopez, she admitted she wasn’t sure a day like this would ever take place at Augusta National.
“You know, I never did,” Lopez said. “But that was okay. It wasn't something that I pondered over … But the thing is, Augusta National has always done it right. They want to grow golf, and the way you grow golf is with amateur golf. I was always a goal setter and now young ladies anywhere, they can set the goal to play at Augusta National.”