Why the Women’s Amateur is one of Augusta National’s finest moments

Jay Busbee
·6-min read

Sometimes it’s good to appreciate the moment.

Imagine you’re standing on the tee at Golden Bell, Augusta National’s world-famous 12th hole. The pin is 155 yards away, the wind’s swirling. You can’t think about the shots you’ve missed; that’s how Rory McIlroy gave away the Masters in 2011. You can’t think about the shots yet to come; that’s how Jordan Spieth gave away the Masters in 2016. You have to be completely in the moment, focused on the task at hand, without thinking of what led up to this point or what might lie ahead.

It’s in that spirit, then, that I offer this: The Augusta National Women’s Amateur, which concluded Saturday with Tsubasa Kajitani defeating Emilia Migliaccio in a playoff, is one of the finest contributions to the game of golf that ANGC has created since the introduction of the Masters, full stop.

The ANWA began three years ago as a surprise announcement by incoming chairman Fred Ridley. In the press building, shock and surprise ran through the media in attendance: A women’s tournament? At Augusta? Really?

Really. “We are always looking for new ways to benefit and impact the game,” Ridley said at the time. “We start with the premise and reality that we are very blessed to have the resources to do that. I met with our senior staff in October [2017] and said I thought this was the right time to do this, right time for the women’s game. I wanted to do this and I wanted to do it here.”

Tsubasa Kajitani, right, and Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Fred Ridley pose with the winner's trophy after Kajitani won the Augusta National Women's Amateur golf tournament on Saturday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Tsubasa Kajitani, right, and Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Fred Ridley pose with the winner's trophy after Kajitani won the Augusta National Women's Amateur on Saturday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

In the immediate wake of Ridley’s announcement, questions flew. Why only amateur women? Why not do a full, professional women’s Masters? Why schedule it against the ANA Inspiration, one of five LPGA majors? And, of course: Why wasn’t this done before?

Look, Augusta National’s elitist history doesn’t translate at all to 2021 ideals of inclusion and diversity. The club deserved to be held to account for simultaneously proclaiming it was serving the interests of the game of golf while excluding women from its ranks.

But it’s not a betrayal of principles to appreciate when they’ve done something right, as well. Acknowledging the club’s past also means acknowledging the progress that ANGC has made from that past.

And for all the hue and cry about Augusta’s overwhelmingly male membership, a tournament designed specifically for amateur women will, in the long run, do far more good for the game of golf than admitting a handful of powerful, politically connected women to the ranks of the green jackets.

Think this is just a minor tournament? Want a sense of how the players regard this honor? Take a look at the reactions of some of those invited to compete:

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“I remember the exact place I was sitting when Augusta National announced their women’s event,” wrote Nebraska’s Kate Smith. “It’s been a dream [ever] since. It’s with tears in my eyes that I say this is a dream come true.”

Here’s Anna Zanusso of Italy, a sophomore at the University of Denver, celebrating the moment:

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And here’s Paris Hilinski, at 17 one of the youngest players in the field:

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Many of Augusta National’s earliest leaders never quite seemed to grasp the concept that even though they created and nurtured the Masters, it stopped being exclusively “theirs” the moment they decided to open their doors to the world and proclaim themselves the avatars and exemplars of an entire sport.

Augusta National, as a golf course, is as much a work of art as anything you’d find in the Louvre or any piece you’d hear from a symphony, and much like that art, its meaning and its value are in part a function of the viewers observing and cherishing it. And sometimes, those viewers want to see the art evolve … not because they want to damage it or cheapen it, but because they want it to reach an even greater audience.

Hootie Johnson, the onetime chairman of Augusta National, famously once faced down a challenge to the club’s all-male membership by writing, “There may be a day when women are invited to join our membership, but that timetable will be ours, not at the point of a bayonet.”

Hyperbolic phrasing and all, it showed the mindset of Augusta National’s former leadership: whatever goes on out on Washington Road and beyond, once you enter the gates of the club, change would come only when the club deemed it necessary.

But since then, change has come all the same — not at the point of a bayonet, but (perhaps) on the verandah of the clubhouse over some post-round lemonade. Change, both in the form of female members and in the creation of the ANWA, came because the members of Augusta recognized that the way they’d done business up until now simply wouldn’t do, going forward. Changing one’s mind and opening long-closed doors often aren’t signs of weakness ... they’re signs of growth.

Granted, depending on your point of view, you might dismiss the ANWA as a crass appeal to political correctness. You might believe it’s simply a savvy business move by an organization observing the changing demographic tides in both golf and the country at large. And you might believe the club’s stance, that this is an altruistic endeavor put on for the good of the game by some of the (mostly) men who have benefited the most from golf’s popularity.

Believe any or all of these options, the fact remains — the tournament is here, it’s happening, and it’s bringing a whole lot of joy to a whole lot of players, and their fans, who had been shut out of Augusta for its entire existence.

What’s next for women at Augusta National? Will there be a full women’s Masters? The club’s not obligated to give up more weekends for a professional women’s tournament, but then it wasn’t obligated to put on an amateur one, either.

There’s still plenty of work to be done to make golf an equal playing field for all. But that doesn’t mean we need to miss out on a chance to appreciate a moment like this.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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