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Players agree, playing first Augusta National Women’s Amateur will be ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’

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Kent State senior Michaela Finn had just finished a fifth straight 30-hour work week interning for Polo Ralph Lauren. Add in loads of schoolwork, practice and training, and she was ready for a vacation.

But the Swedish golfer couldn’t take a break just yet. First, she needed to travel from Ohio to Coral Springs, Fla., to compete in the Dec. 18-21 Dixie Women’s Amateur.

When Finn arrived in South Florida, her host family asked her why she was playing. For Finn, the answer was simple: It was her last shot to improve her standing in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking and qualify for the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

With one goal in mind, Finn succeeded, finishing runner-up at the Dixie to climb 14 spots in the WAGR. At No. 49 in the year’s final ranking, Finn earned one of the automatic spots given to the 30 highest-ranked international players.

“During the Dixie, I was thinking about Augusta all the time,” Finn said. “I was trying not to, because I didn’t want to have that pressure on me, but, you know, it was the first and last shot for me (she’ll be pro before the 2020 event).

“And it’s one of those tournaments that you’re going to be able to look back on and say, ‘I was there. I played in the very first one.’”

In all, 72 women’s amateur golfers will be part of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, which is set for April 3-6 in Augusta, Ga. Sixty-six of them, including Finn, were announced Tuesday as the tournament released an initial commitment list. Six more are expected to be added at a later date.

Before the official announcement, several players took to social media to show off their invitations, which featured a similar look to the invites sent to Masters participants. Truthfully, this event already has the feel of being the Masters of women’s amateur golf.

“Feels so surreal,” tweeted teenager Lucy Li, ranked ninth in the WAGR. “Thanks @anwagolf for making my dreams, and the dreams of girls all around the world come true!”

Said Italy’s Virginia Elena Carta, a senior at Duke and the 2016 NCAA individual champion: “Couldn’t be any more excited and blessed for the start of 2019 by receiving the invite to play in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur.”

And Stanford’s Andrea Lee, ranked fifth in the world: “Extremely excited and grateful to be among the first women to compete at Augusta National. Been dreaming of playing here ever since I was a little girl!”

The top 30 players after 36 holes – at Champions Retreat Golf Club – will get to play the final round at Augusta National Golf Club, an unprecedented opportunity for female golfers. Arkansas senior Maria Fassi, the reigning Annika Award winner as college golf’s top women’s player, called it, “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Unlike their male counterparts, the dream of one day competing at Augusta National only became a possibility last April, when Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley announced the event before the 2018 Masters.

But for Fassi, and many of her peers, playing in the first Augusta National Women’s Amateur instantly became a top priority. She and many of the older players will turn professional before getting a chance to compete in multiple championships at Augusta National.

“The Masters is the one tournament I always watched growing up,” Fassi said. “I didn’t really follow golf, but the Masters is the tournament I never missed. It’s always been a dream to play at Augusta National. Having this opportunity, just thinking about it makes me happy. Little boys think about it growing up all the time, but little girls never really had that thought, because we never saw a way for us to play there.

“Now we know there’s a tournament there, and it makes everything better for us. I’m just very grateful to Augusta National.”

Florida junior Sierra Brooks admitted it's been hard to sleep as she tries to contain her excitement.

"This is exactly what we need for the women's game and just for amateur golf, as well," Brooks said. "It's going to inspire so many young kids and gives us the pathway to play Augusta. I've always dreamed to compete at Augusta National, and now that that dream's a reality, it's incredible."

Brooks played Augusta National back when she was a freshman at Wake Forest. She also has attended three Masters. A few other players have used connections to score early visits to play the course. Most players, though, will see Augusta National for the first time when they step on the course the day before the final round. Finn doesn’t know what to expect; she’s heard about the elevation changes and the difficult greens.

She does know, however, that it was be a special and emotional moment.

“Whatever I do that week,” Finn said. “I’m going to see it as a success that I even got there.”

– Randall Mell contributed to this report