Sorenstam, Ochoa, Lopez, Pak at Augusta

Four of the Greats Will Grace the Launch of Augusta National Women’s Amateur

Its hard to believe that we are only one week out from the first major women’s event at Augusta, site of the annual Masters. I recently wondered loud in print at how they would handle the opening ceremonies, and although I’m still not sure, I know who will be there. A quartet of greatness has been invited as showcase guests for this inaugural event, complete with Tiffany Bowl trophy inscribed with the name of the event. Nothing feels weird about having the best female amateurs play Augusta. Part of the reason is that the
women’s game has come on so strong through the years, thanks to the founding pioneers and those who guided the LPGA into the technology era. The other is wrapped up in the achievements of the four celebrities chosen to get things started. They belong at Augusta, and anywhere in the golf world they want to go. Add competitor Sierra Brooks and Maria Fassi, and you’ve got yourself a celebration.

The tours depend in part upon a sense of quality history. It is important that each generation of new golfers connect with their former greats whenever possible – and Augusta is the perfect place to do it. Women who are winning tournaments today weren’t around yet when Nancy Lopez burst on the scene in 1977. In her first full year as a rookie, she won nine events, and five in a row, not to mention a bunch of hearts. All in all, she won 48 events, and took her turn at keeping the LPGA in the lens of attention.
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Se-Ri-Pak pioneered the entrance of the Asian continent into professional golf. The only Korean golfer in the beginning, she created a landslide of interest among her own countrywomen, and they showed up in force. After 24 tour wins, with victories in fourteen others including five majors, she retired after missing a cut for the first time in 29 majors, Welcome to Augusta.

Lorena Ochoa won everything in sight for a few years between 2003 and 2010.  She was to become the first Mexican golfer of either gender to attain a #1 ranking. In a fitting example of connection within the tour, Ochoa was the recipient of the Nancy Lopez Award. She was the only one of the four I was able to meet personally. In a profession with so many lovely people, she was a personal Hall of Famer.

Annika Sorenstam was regarded as one of the greatest female golfers who ever lived, and strong arguments were made for the greatest, bar none. In a career that ended in 2008, she won 72 sanctioned events and 18 others. Her earnings topped 22 million. Sorenstam shot the only 59 in competition. She always struck me like the benevolent genius who has never experienced an attention lapse in her life. I could swear during all those tournaments that I could hear her concentrating, and wouldn’t be surprised to discover that she’s a chess champion as well.

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So, here is the combined golf firepower that won somewhere around 200 tour events, and filled up a room at the World Golf Hall of Fame, all meeting at Augusta, where they never got to play. All four have gone on to continued success in subsequent years, and will gather to witness the first women’s event on what has always been the men’s hallowed ground. The first 36 holes will be played at the Champions Retreat Golf Club at Evans, Georgia, before the field is narrowed to the top 30 for the final round at Augusta. However, no one will be left out from the Augusta experience. The entire field will be given a practice round. That’s what I always wanted from my golf life, just one round, regardless of score. Try as we might, neither an act of Congress nor an edict from the Pope will get any of us on the course at Augusta¬† unless we’re either invited or qualify for one of these tournaments.

I only have one more question. Will there be a green jacket? Maybe some day?

 

 

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