Kupcho wins historic first Augusta National women’s title

Jennifer Kupcho of the United States reacts on the 18th green during the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur at Augusta National Golf Club. (AFP pic)

AUGUSTA: American Jennifer Kupcho became the first woman to capture a championship at former all-male enclave Augusta National Golf Club, out dueling Mexico’s Maria Fassi on Saturday to win at the famed home of the Masters.

In a dramatic battle between two 21-year-old US collegiate stars, Kupcho had three birdies and an eagle in the last six holes in firing a five-under par 67 to finish 54 holes on 10-under 206 for a four-stroke victory over Fassi, who fired her third consecutive 70.

“It’s just amazing. It’s just great to be able to do that,” Kupcho said. “It’s a feeling I can’t describe.”

Japanese teen Yuka Yasuda and Yuka Saso of the Philippines shared a distant third on 214.

The amateur tournament was the first women’s trophy ever contested at Augusta National, which opened in 1933 but didn’t admit its first female members until 2012.

A field of 72 played the first 36 holes at nearby Champions Retreat before the top 30 advanced to the last 18 holes at the famed Masters layout.

Women’s world amateur number one Kupcho, the reigning US college champion, and Fassi, last year’s US women’s college golfer of the year, staged a dramatic duel in a historic moment.

“The ending wasn’t what I would have liked but it was still amazing to compete at Augusta for the first time,” Fassi said. “I’m just really happy. We played amazing golf. It really is a dream come true.”

Deadlocked with three holes to play, Kupcho sank a tense six-foot birdie putt at the par-3 16th while Fassi missed a short par putt, leaving the American two shots ahead. Both parred 17 and Fassi made bogey at 18 before Kupcho concluded with a roar-raising 20-foot birdie putt.

“I did all I could,” Fassi said. “She played a great game. I know we’re going to be battling in the future.”

Augusta history

Kupcho received the champion’s trophy in Butler Cabin, where Masters winners are presented with green jackets, and Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley told her, “You’re part of Augusta National history now.”

LPGA legends Pak Se Ri, Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Nancy Lopez hit ceremonial first tee shots to launch the historic round, although it was American Anna Redding who hit the first competitive shot at Augusta National.

“It’s just exciting to be a part of history,” Lopez said.

“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.”

Augusta’s trademark lightning-quick and undulating greens took a toll on rivals as Kupcho and Fassi battled beneath the Georgia pines in fabled Amen Corner, women shining for the first time over some of golf’s most famous holes.

“So cool seeing these women live out their dreams right now,” tweeted Rory McIlroy, who hopes to complete a Career Grand Slam by winning his first Masters title next weekend.

Businesswoman Darla Moore and former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were named the club’s first women members in August 2012.

In 2014 came Augusta’s first nod to female talent, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship. Young girls and boys won titles with a decisive putt on Augusta National’s famed 18th green.

The LPGA legends enjoyed the same honorary starter moment in a similar fashion to how Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and the late Arnold Palmer have at the Masters.

“For them to kind of make us like Arnold, Jack and Gary, it’s a real big honour to be here and hit that first shot,” Lopez said.

Nicklaus tweeted his appreciation for women playing at Augusta, writing, “Always considered Augusta National GC & @TheMasters the best at balancing respect for golf’s history & tradition with innovative ways to grow our game. Inaugural @anwagolf is the latest great example.”