AUGUSTA – Striking blows for gender equality with every swing at former men-only enclave Augusta National Golf Club, women golfers competed for a trophy for the first time Saturday at the home of the Masters.
In a club that opened in 1933 but didn't admit its first women members until 2012, LPGA legends Pak Se Ri, Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Nancy Lopez hit ceremonial shots off the first tee to launch the historic final round of the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur.
"It's just exciting to be a part of history," Lopez said. "A day of history for us, for the amateurs that are here and for Augusta National."
A field of 72 played the first 36 holes at nearby Champions Retreat before the event moved to the famed Masters layout, with everyone having a practice round Friday but only the top 30 advancing to compete in the last 18 holes of the tournament.
"It's a dream come true. I'm so happy for them," Sorenstam said. "This has huge potential to not just inspire young girls but golfers, other women in sports and women in business."
American Anna Redding, a University of Virginia senior, was the first competitor to tee off, but she was eight strokes adrift of US leader Jennifer Kupcho. The Wake Forest University senior led after 36 holes on 5-under par 139 with Mexico's Maria Fassi, a University of Arkansas senior, one stroke behind.
"To play here for the first time is going to be just a great motivation and it's beautiful. They know how special it is," Ochoa said. "Hitting that first tee shot is probably going to be the highlight of their career."
Augusta National's all-male status led to a 2003 protest across the street from the club but it was not until August 2012 when businesswoman Darla Moore and former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were named the club's first women members.
Another move was 2014's debut of the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, where young girls and boys won titles with a decisive putt on Augusta National's famed 18th green -- three Women's Amateur players having taken part as youths.
Pak struck the first ceremonial tee shot followed in order by Ochoa, Lopez and Sorenstam, handling the duties in a similar fashion to how Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and the late Arnold Palmer have done at the Masters.
"First time in a long time I get nervous," Pak said. "I have honor to lead."
"For them to kind of make us like Arnold, Jack and Gary, it's a real big honor to be here and hit that first shot," Lopez said.AFP