NCAA women's golf: ANWA boosted college game

Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Network

NCAA women's golf: ANWA boosted college game

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NCAA women's golf: ANWA boosted college game

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Only time can give us a full appreciation of how the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur ultimately impacts the women’s game. But a mere five weeks later we know this: the NCAA Championship has already benefitted from it.

College golf fans knew about Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi prior to Augusta. But now their names are familiar to those who don’t follow the women’s game, much less college golf.

They will be the face of this week’s championship at the Blessings Golf Club. The fiery Fassi, of course, leading the charge for the home team, Arkansas, and Kupcho, the ANWA champ, trying to win a second NCAA individual title.

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The women’s NCAA Championship has been nothing short of exhilarating since the format changed to match play in 2015. Most of the time viewers got to know the college players in real-time.

But should Kupcho and Fassi find themselves in the mix for the individual title come Monday in prime time, it will be like watching two old friends. That’s how much these two drew us in at Augusta.

“I feel like what was really special about Augusta is we showed the world what we really stand for and our values and our sportsmanship,” said Fassi. “We showed our friendship and love for the game, and I think that means a lot more than a 65.”

At the NCAAs, Fassi and Kupcho will showcase something else – loyalty.

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It’s a quality that’s hard to come by these days. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for players making the transition from college golf to the pros, but for everyone associated with Wake Forest and Arkansas, it means the world that these two players deferred LPGA status and came back for their last semester of school.

It’s important for youngsters to see that example. It’s important for them to hear what going to college did not only for their golf games, but for their development as people.

“My whole personality has changed since I’ve been in school,” said Kupcho. “I was very introverted and quiet and didn’t want to talk to people. Now I’ll go up to anyone, or if anyone comes up to me, I’ll carry on a conversation no problem.”

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Kupcho’s advice to youngsters: Play other sports while you can in high school. Make friends not only on the golf team but beyond when you get to college.

Pro golf can be a lonely place.

“I think that’s going to be probably the biggest struggle we’ll face,” she said.

Fassi, voted the ANNIKA Award winner last season as the Player of the Year in college golf, graduated last weekend with a degree in sport management. She came to Arkansas from Pachuca, Mexico, at the age of 17 and calls it the best three and half years of her life.

“We’re never coming back to this time in our lives,” she said.

Both Fassi and Kupcho will make their professional debuts later this month at the U.S. Women’s Open in Charleston, S.C. Fassi also received an invite to play in this year’s Evian Championship as last year’s ANNIKA winner. Both players chose to defer their LPGA rookie status six months so that they could play here at the Blessings this week.

Fassi believes the Razorbacks’ team chemistry has never been stronger. She refers to her teammates as “sisters” and calls their bond the best part about college.

Not everyone has that kind of experience.

Kupcho endured her fair share of drama at Wake Forest, saying she often felt like the “middle man” as top recruits left the program. Not long ago the goal at Wake was to field a team so that Kupcho could just get to nationals as an individual.

“I just tried to get everyone under control so we could at least have a good time on the road,” said Kupcho, who played team sports throughout high school.

Thankfully, the tide has turned considerably since then. Kupcho stayed the course and continues to put team first. Adversity has shaped her as much as winning.

Augusta National put Kupcho on the map in ways the NCAAs never could. But now more fans, particularly kids, will hopefully tune in to watch these players play for something bigger than themselves.

“I wouldn’t change college for anything,” said Fassi.

It’s a message that can’t be delivered enough.

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