SEBRING, Fla. – Anna Redding’s invitation to the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur arrived the day after she left for a tournament. Redding gave her parents strict instructions: Don’t break the seal.
Because she was headed directly to the University of Virginia from the Harder Hall Invitational in Central Florida, Redding’s parents planned to meet her during a 90-minute layover at the airport in Charlotte, N.C., so she could get her hands on that piece of history.
“It’s incredibly meaningful,” Redding said. “It’s so surreal too.”
Those who automatically qualified for the ANWA received their invitations via 2nd Day Air. Players from around the world posted videos on social media opening the green envelope with the gold embossed seal. Erica Shepherd, the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, included a family photo in front of the 13th green at Augusta National alongside her invitation.
“Have always dreamed of playing at Augusta National,” she tweeted, “… and now that has become a reality.”
For most, it seemed like the impossible dream.
The groundbreaking event takes place April 3-6, the week prior to the Masters. The 72-player field will compete over 54 holes of stroke play, with the first two rounds taking place at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. The field will be cut to 30 players. The entire field then will play a practice round April 5 at Augusta National before the final round takes place there April 6.
Redding certainly will be one of the few players in the field with previous experience at Augusta National. Her father lined up 27 holes there when Redding was a senior in high school. She played the back nine twice and took pride in having a look at birdie both times on the par-3 12th.
“It’s so short for the guys and they’ve got wedges,” Redding said. “I hit that green with a 6-iron.”
Alexa Pano, 14, boasts plenty of success at Augusta – on the practice grounds. The two-time Drive, Chip and Putt winner earned the final spot among U.S. players off the World Golf Amateur Ranking. The ANWA gives exemptions to the top 30 Americans who haven’t otherwise qualified.
Pano’s father, Rick, told her at the beginning of December that she’d likely need to win the Dixie Amateur later that month to have a chance at qualifying. Pano delivered, then waited anxiously to see how far she would rise. She’s currently 99th.
Though only a freshman in high school, Pano is keenly aware of the tournament’s significance.
“The most important part of the event is that it’s actually happening,” she said.
Rick said the first time Pano felt nerves on a golf course was in her debut at the DCP National Finals. In her third appearance in 2017, she gave six interviews on the day before the competition.
One has to believe the demand will be similarly high this time around for the star of the 2013 Netflix documentary “The Short Game,” produced by Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel.
“My feeling, knowing Alexa, is it’s going to be a balance of just trying to relax and play golf,” Rick said. “But also appreciate that you’re a part of something that no one has ever done before. And that’s not easy to do.”
Lucy Li, whose amateur status remains unclear since her appearance in an advertisement for Apple, received her invite thanks her spot in the rankings. She posted the invite via her Instagram story feed on Sunday.
Arkansas’ Dylan Kim has an edge going into the ANWA as well, but not at Augusta National. Before the family moved from to Waco, Texas, Kim played often at Champions Retreat while living in Augusta. She attended a practice round at the Masters too, at age 11, and walked the entire course.
Kim remembers telling anyone who would listen back then that Augusta National needed to host a women’s event.
“I had people tell me it was never going to happen,” she said. “It’s amazing that it’s come true and happened in my lifetime. That they’ve opened up their doors to us.” Gwk