AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Moments after Marta Perez teed off in a practice round unlike any other, she ventured to the right of the 10th fairway at Augusta National to see where Bubba Watson hit that 40-yard hook with a sand wedge in 2012 that won the Masters.
After so many Masters memories in front of the television, Perez and 71 others in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur felt part of it.
“It’s special to see when you’ve watched so much on TV,” she said.
Her only regret?
“It went by so fast,” Perez said. “I didn’t want it to end.”
At least she gets one more day. Everyone in the field of the inaugural event was allowed a practice round Friday, and then the 30 players who made the cut after two rounds at Champions Retreat get their own shot at history as the first woman to win a tournament at the home of the Masters.
NCAA champion Jennifer Kupcho has a one-shot lead over Mari Fassi of Spain, a senior at Arkansas honored last year as the best woman in college golf.
This might have been the busiest Augusta National has ever been on the Friday leading into the Masters.
The women had the golf course from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. A few club members played in the afternoon — they typically play, sometimes with guests, all the way into Sunday afternoon — even as players contending for a green jacket next week began arriving.
Kupcho decided to use an Augusta National caddie instead of her father for the final round, the same caddie she had when she played with the Wake Forest team as guests. She hit into the tributary of Rae’s Creek on the par-5 13th and says she probably will lay up in the tournament because she’s good with wedges.
Even with her mind on the silver bowl for the winner, she took time to look around.
“It was amazing,” she said.
Fassi said she was excited “on every single shot.”
“I mean, the 18 holes, every single hole had something special,” she said. “And we were joking in our group, like I was on 12 tee and I was shaking. I was like, ‘It is a practice round. Why are you shaking?’ Just the amount of history that there is out here, it’s amazing. We’re just really lucky to be out here.”
It was one year and one day ago when Masters chairman Fred Ridley announced the creation of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, saying it was “a segment of our sport that is … vital to the future of golf.”
Ridley liked the way it looked on paper, and loved it even more when the women arrived for dinner at the club on Tuesday and he saw the expression on their faces and heard excitement in their voices.
“What I’m hoping is that showing these women in an iconic setting, to show their skills and the elite athletes that they are, is going to be very inspiring,” Ridley said. “The other part of what I’ve been focusing on the last few days from a larger sense — and I think our sponsors have realized this and emphasized this — is focusing on women’s accomplishments in general, not just in golf and sports.
“I think anything that does that is good for society. I think it’s good for everybody.”
Augusta National did not have a female member until the late summer of 2012, a number that now is believed to be at six women — former NBA executive Heidi Ueberroth was seen in a green jacket Friday.
And now they have a tournament for women.
The Augusta National Women’s Amateur has all the trapping of the Masters. Everything is open except for Berckmans Place, the state-of-the-art hospitality center. Even at Champions Retreat, no phones were allowed by spectators. Concessions were the same, with the Georgia peach ice cream sandwich the most expensive item on the menu at $2. There will be honorary starters, with Nancy Lopez, Se Ri Pak, Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam hitting tee shots off No. 1.
Six players are within four shots of the lead, and with so little experience on a golf course that is among the most dynamic in golf, it could be wide open. This might be the first time someone can say the Augusta National Women’s Amateur doesn’t really start until the back nine Saturday.
“It’s just a great moment in golf for women amateurs to be able to have this opportunity,” Lopez said. “I know when they announced it last year I just sat there for a while and went, ‘Wow, this is awesome.’ I had chills wishing I could be an amateur again.
“These young players, they are excellent players, and the opportunity for them to come and play Augusta National is like a feather in their cap.”