At majestic Augusta National, Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi put on epic display of skill

At majestic Augusta National, Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi put on epic display of skill

Amateur

At majestic Augusta National, Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi put on epic display of skill

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — There was a retro vibe to the progress-pushing Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

The inaugural playing harkened to the years when the game was just a little more in sync, Masters finishes seemed scripted by Disney imagineers and those glorious years when we didn’t wait for players to walk deep into the woods to tee off, only to watch them take just as long to reach their 320-yard tee shots.

It was like seeing Beatles in the Cavern Club instead of Shea Stadium. The intimacy, scale and grandeur of two players running away from the field and facing the same momentous decisions dealt with in those many incredible 20th Century Masters, came flooding to mind. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur reminded us of everything we love about the Masters, only with the scale in better proportion and the game’s future putting on an epic display.

Architecturally, we saw the Augusta National we remember when everything just worked better before they started narrowing landing areas, deepening bunkers and pushing green speeds to offset a power game pushing the outer limits of sanity.  The putting surfaces were a tad more manageable and the glorious back nine par-5’s playing just long enough to provide a platform for the tempting, momentous decisions that made Augusta National stand apart.

The round just flowed much better. Watching players from tees we can all relate to was more satsifying. Seeing balls in flight and wondering if they would clear those watery graves reminded us how thrilling it is to watch players rise to the occasion in this singular setting.

Not afraid to go for it

While Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi’s duel sets an almost unimaginably high bar for the event, they may have done something no one could have seen coming after Chairman Fred Ridley shocked the world in announcing this event last year: they may have provided the best Augusta National drama we will see in 2019.

The two future LPGA stars, who deferred their tour cards recently earned to play here and finish their collegiate seasons, separated themselves from the rest with power, accuracy and all-around skill. The course fleshed out those with just a little less skill, a little less distance when needed and allowed these two magnificent talents to do something increasingly less likely in the modern power game: to go for the green or not?

With Kupcho two back on the par-5 13th — playing 445 yards for the event— her perfect drawing tee shot left her 211 yards to a Sunday-esque hole location close to the tributary of Rae’s Creek. Knowing she had to put pressure on Fassi, Kupcho wasted little time reaching for her 3-hybrid, lofting the shot unimaginably high given the steep sidehill stance. The shot never left its line, landing into the steep tier and feeding to within about 5 feet.

“I would say that was probably one of the best shots I’ve ever hit,” Kupcho said.

It will go down as one of the best shots hit at golf’s greatest par-5.

Jennifer Kupcho plays her tee shot on the 13th hole during the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur golf tournament at Augusta National GC. (Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)

“She’s not afraid of going for it,” Fassi said after the round. “She’s not afraid to be great and that’s what makes her great.”

Fassi was just past Kupcho but her drive reached the second cut. The patrons gathered just off the fairway agreed her ultimate decision to lay-up was the smart, lead-protecting play. A solid wedge left Fassi outside Kupcho, and a par proved momentum killing only briefly. A birdie at 14 swung things back Fassi’s way and set up the 15th hole as the next stage in their duel.

A stunning 7-iron at 16

Both players hit shaky drives, with Fassi stymied by the pines right and wedging out, while Kupcho drove left and faced that epic decision to go for it or lay back?  She went with the trusty 3-hybrid and aimed for the right greenside bunker, bringing the towering pine into play.

“I wasn’t trying to mess with the tree, but I just think with nerves and everything, that’s my tendency, is kind of to hit a draw and that’s what happened,” Kupcho said. “It just drew around it.”

On the back fringe, Kupcho made birdie while Fassi scrambled to par, leaving the two tied for the lead with three to go. But a stunning 7-iron by Kupcho at 16, using that slope we know so well from Masters past, and a three-putt from Fassi created a two-stroke swing that essentially ended the match in this 54-stroke play event.

By then, the crowd had swelled to Masters-like size for the finishing holes, with spectators almost running to get a glimpse. There was a sense that not only had Augusta National hit one out of the proverbial park, but that the patrons were witnessing how beautiful the sport can be when a grand course design, skilled players and a historic setting are all in sync.

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