No. 1 Rose Zhang looks to fend off host of world-beaters at tough ANWA finale

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Julie Williams
·5 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

AUGUSTA, Georgia – In one respect, Olivia Mehaffey says every competitor is the same this week. There’s everything to gain by winning the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and every player is likely thinking it.

“I think after seeing what Jennifer [Kupcho] and Maria [Fassi] did last year, you want to be in their shoes and you want to experience what they experience, so I think to anybody it would mean a lot,” she said.

How many players can still realistically walk away with the title? Mehaffey, at even par and one shot off the lead, is certainly one of them. With Rose Zhang and Ingrid Lindblad – the Nos. 1- and 5- ranked amateurs in the world – ahead of her, Mehaffey will have to score.

The same holds true for anyone within three or four shots of Zhang and Lindblad at 1 under. The chase was one of the most exciting parts of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Jennifer Kupcho played the back nine in 4 under – and with a memorable eagle at No. 13 – to finish four shots ahead of Maria Fassi.

Course setup and conditions will play a role in just how aggressively players can be, particularly on the back 9 and the par 5s. Many players reported that a headwind at the par-5 13th on Friday made it unwise to go for the green in two shots. To go for the par-5 15th in two requires the right positioning off the tee.

How aggressive can you play at Augusta National?

“I think aggressive to smart targets,” Mehaffey said.

Erica Shepherd enters the day seven shots off the lead. She’s already done some leaderboard math, particularly when it comes to who’s still in contention.

“I think anything is possible, especially out here,” Shepherd said. “You can go low out here. If you have the lines on putts, you aren’t going to hit a bump or anything and it’s going to go off line. I think anything is possible. Scores aren’t as low this year obviously because of how tough the conditions were.”

Auston Kim, who is even and one shot back, answers that question a little bit differently. This stage – the biggest stage, arguably, in women’s amateur golf – requires more than shot-making. Kim doesn’t have a mental coach, but she’s a bookworm, particularly when it comes to nonfiction. It’s one way she’s calmed her mind, and the lessons she’s read will be key on Saturday.

The final round at Augusta National will require “beyond normal strength.” She can’t get ahead of herself or dwell on the past.

“It’s only as tough as you make it,” she said. “I know it’s a tough course but I don’t want to let it get to me tomorrow.”

Conditions may complicate any sort of chase, particularly if competitors are met with wind and chill, like they were in the practice round. Amelia Garvey, a USC player who missed the cut, said she played really well in the practice round to shoot even. She doesn’t see a number in the 60s out there in the final round.

Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, a South Carolina player who will start the day five shots back, thinks the greens will prevent any kind of wild scoring.

“It’s going to be definitely difficult to be in the 60s,” she said.

Asked about making up ground, Gina Kim, who is 1 over and two shots off the lead, referenced some scrambling from the second round at Champions Retreat. She only hit nine greens in that round and still came out with a bogey-free round of 1-under.

A chase will require patience.

“I think just kind of staying patient and waiting for an opportunity to come, I think that will be key for me to kind of find my way on top of the leaderboard,” she said.

The leaders are unlikely to give up much ground.

Linblad thinks hitting fairways will be key. There will be bogeys out there, so birdies will be doubly important. The LSU sophomore impressed her caddie on Friday with her high ball flight. It may be her biggest advantage.

“I hit my irons pretty high,” she said. “So my caddie was a little shocked on some holes today where he’s like, oh, you hit it that high?”

Back in 2018, Lindblad and Zhang played three matches in a row against each other at the Junior Ryder Cup. Lindblad’s side won the foursomes match, but they tied in fourball and in their singles match, with Zhang coming back from 3 down with three holes to play to earn that half point.

On Friday, Zhang took plenty of notes, mostly about the greens. Now she’ll have to execute.

Zhang, who won the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur and finished 11th at the ANA Inspiration (an LPGA major) later in the fall, knows all about pressure. How does Saturday compare to the weekend in a major championship?

“Obviously this is a big event and tomorrow is the final round at Augusta National,” she said. “I think there’s definitely nerves to it but just going to try to stay composed.”

Related

Friday at the Augusta National Women's Amateur is a practice round no one wants to end

Two years later, memories of the inaugural ANWA are still fresh. How will this year's finale compare?

Emilia Migliaccio and her mother set to make history at Augusta National on Saturday