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College coaches excited by new Augusta event

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – The best women’s college players have a new goal for next spring – and not just an NCAA title.

The announcement of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship sent shockwaves through the college golf community on Wednesday.

“I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” said Alabama coach Mic Potter. “What a great opportunity for girls, and what an incentive to work really hard on your game and reach that goal. It’s probably the best thing that could happen to us.”

The effects on women’s college golf are significant, from LPGA Q-School decisions to tournament scheduling.

Potter has a handful of players who are poised to enter Q-School next year. But with an event as prestigious and unique as Augusta National’s, he said, “You definitely will think a little harder to leave or go play for your team in the spring.”

Scheduling will be even trickier.

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The first issue to sort out is what happens to the amateurs for the ANA Inspiration. The LPGA already invites seven amateurs to play in the event – Stanford sophomore Albane Valenzuela was in contention through three rounds last week – and elite players might need to decide whether to play in a major or at Augusta National.

The event falls during crunch time of the college season – a few weeks before the postseason, and at the peak of a student’s academic year, as well. UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth said that coaches need to be "really dialed in" so they don't schedule an event without two or three of their best players. 

“It’s certainly an exciting opportunity,” said USC coach Andrea Gaston, “and I imagine a lot of college players could be invited to this new event next year. The biggest challenge will be working out the logistics, but any great amateur who loves the game dreams of the opportunity to go to Augusta.”

Stanford coach Anne Walker recalls watching the Masters 20 years ago and thinking that it was a “pipe dream” to play Augusta National. That idea changed a few years ago, when Condoleezza Rice became a member, and the former U.S. Secretary of State invited the team to Augusta.

“Walls are being knocked down,” Walker said.

For college coaches, the announcement signaled an exciting start to the Ridley era at Augusta National.  

“I couldn’t have imagined it last year,” Potter said. “I’m still shocked. But Fred Ridley is a progressive guy, and always has been.

“This incentivizes it a lot for young ladies. Who gets to go play there in a competitive event? There’s something out there to shoot for now.”