In-state college talent among field at inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur

April 4, 2019

Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley revealed last year that the club’s latest initiative to grow the game would bring 72 of the world’s best women amateur golfers to the area for the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship.

It’s time now for that group to make history – play begins Wednesday morning in Evans at Champions Retreat. After two rounds there, the field will be cut to the 30 players who will compete for the championship Saturday at Augusta National.

The field is truly the best of the best of women’s amateur golf, and it includes plenty of the top talent from the college game – and five of those players have collegiate ties to South Carolina.

Natalie Srinivasan, a Mount Pleasant native, is a junior on the Furman golf team and was last year’s Southern Conference Player of the Year. Srinivasan resides in Spartanburg and went to high school at Dorman, where she led the Cavaliers to a Class AAAA state championship in 2015 – she was the individual champion after back-to-back rounds of 70, which was especially impressive in the second round on a miserable, rainy day at the Country Club of Lexington.

It wasn’t long after winning that state championship that she got to play Augusta National – the result of her winning an AJGA event, she recalled Tuesday. That experience could prove to be beneficial for the 29th-ranked amateur in the world should she advance to the final round.

“You would like to think so, but you never know what’s going to happen out there,” she said. “Like, everyone here is always like watching the Masters. We’ve seen the course and it’s a pretty well-known place.”

Srinivasan is one of three players in the field with Furman ties. Alice Chen, a four-time All-Southern Conference selection, is a 2018 graduate, and Haylee Harford, a three-time all-conference pick, is a senior at Furman.

“It’s just fun,” said Harford. “I think it adds to the whole experience for all of us to be out here and it says a lot about our program, which is good.”

The University of South Carolina and Clemson are represented, too. USC grad Ainhoa Olarra, from Spain, won the 2018 SEC Championship, and Clemson senior Alice Hewson, from England, is the first golfer in the history of the Tigers’ women’s program to make the All-ACC team three times.

Hewson, the 25th-ranked amateur in the world, will have a quick turnaround like many of the other players in the field – the Tigers host the Clemson Invitational starting Sunday at The Reserve at Lake Keowee. That tournament has been a Friday-Saturday-Sunday event in years past, but Hewson said Tuesday that the dates were altered to avoid a conflict with the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

“Well, it wasn’t just because of me but because of the tournament in general,” she said. “We have a really good field at the Clemson Invitational, so the coaches knew that more than just me would be making the tournament, and you know, we might not get as good of a field if people were going to be leaving their best players at home. So yeah, I’ll be driving back Saturday night, ready to tee off for the first round Sunday morning.”

Top-ranked Jennifer Kupcho, a senior at Wake Forest, headlines a field that includes six of the top-10 amateurs in the world. Stanford junior Andrea Lee is ranked third; South Korea’s Jiwon Jeon, a junior at Alabama, is ranked sixth; Atthaya Thitikul, a 16-year-old from Thailand, is ranked eighth; Mexico’s Maria Fassi, a senior at Arkansas, is ranked ninth; and Olarra is 10th.