EVANS, Ga. – The fourth edition of the Augusta National Women's Amateur begins Wednesday at Champions Retreat Golf Club.
The 54-hole event features 72 of the top women's amateur player in the world – 45 of the current top 50 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking to be exact – and a 36-hole cut to the top 30 players and ties, who will advance to play Saturday's final round at Augusta National Golf Club.
Here are some players to keep an eye on:
The World No. 1
Rose Zhang, the No. 1 player in WAGR and women's college golf, is back for a fourth – and maybe final? – ANWA. The Stanford sophomore has accomplished just about everything in the amateur game – wins at the U.S. Girls' Junior, U.S. Women's Amateur and NCAA Championship, both team and individual titles, among her many accolades.
The most glaring hole in her young resume? Winning at Augusta National.
"It's really cool to be able to be here and get another go at it," said Zhang, who has gone T-12, T-3 and T-17 in her three past ANWAs. Last year, she arrived in the Augusta area nursing a fractured left pinky toe, which she had dropped a dumbbell on earlier in the year.
Now fully healthy, Zhang is on a heater entering one of the biggest events on the golf calendar. She has won five of six events this college season to run her career total to nine, two shy of the Stanford men's record held by Tiger Woods, Patrick Rodgers and Maverick McNealy. She also has been No. 1 in WAGR for a record 133 straight weeks, passing Lydia Ko last week, and is three more weeks from eclipsing the all-time record of 135, held by former Duke standout Leona Maguire.
But Zhang hasn't noticed her run of hot play; she's been too busy with school. The history major just wrapped up a winter quarter that included 21 units, her heaviest workload ever.
"I've definitely been grinding in every single event, and I feel like coming out on top just shows that I'm able to have the grind, and I'm able to commit to every single shot and try my best to put up a good score for my team and the school in general," Zhang said. "I haven't really thought about it as a super hot streak. I continue to kind of have that mindset going into tomorrow."
The past champions
Each of the past two winners of the ANWA have been teenagers – 2021 champion Tsubasa Kajitani and last year's winner Anna Davis.
Kajitani is back at this championship for the first time since her victory, as a "family issue" caused her to skip her title defense. She said Tuesday that she didn't even watch last year's television coverage.
"I couldn't think about anything at that point," Kajitani said, "but from now I, yeah, disappointed in myself like I couldn't compete last year."
Davis arrives as the reigning champ with two victories in top junior tournaments under her belt already this year, at the Junior Orange Bowl and then a few weeks ago at nearby Sage Valley.
"I feel like earlier in the week I was putting more pressure on myself, I don't know," Davis said. "Once you're here you're like, OK, I'm just going to enjoy myself. It's a pretty golf course. Playing good golf with good people. Just enjoy the experience."
And as for the bucket hat? It won't come out until Saturday – if she makes it that far.
"First two days is little too early for that," Davis said. "Got to keep them on their toes a little bit."
The reigning runners-up
LSU teammates Ingrid Lindblad and Latanna Stone had two different final rounds a year ago at Augusta National. Lindblad shot 77 in the second round to make the cut by two shots, but she then rallied with a two-eagle, 4-under 68 to surge into a share of second with her former roommate. Stone, though, coughed up a two-shot lead with two holes to play, double-bogeying No. 17 and bogeying No. 18 to finish at shot back of Anna Davis.
Lindblad won her 11th college event, tops in LSU history, on Sunday at Clemson's home event, rallying for an opening 75 to share medalist honors.
"I felt like that course was pretty similar to what I've seen here," Lindblad said. "Like you kind of have some uneven lies on the fairways. It was a little wet and the greens were firm, which they've been out here before. Now they're a lot softer, which, well, I kind of expected after the rain, but not before I got here. ... It feels good to have played well at a course similar to this one."
Stone said she learned last year in defeat, "That not everything goes your way even though how hard you work."
"But," she added. "I think it showed me that to be a great winner, you have to be a really good loser."
With teenagers having so much success here in recent years, could youth reign supreme again come Saturday? Of the 72 players in the field, exactly half of them are under 20 years old. Sixteen players are age 17 or younger, including the two youngest players in the field, 15-year-olds Gianna Clemente and Japan's Mamika Shinchi.
"I'm super confident," said Clemente, who last year Monday qualified for three straight LPGA events. "I think it's going to be a really good week. I've put a lot of prep last couple weeks just to make sure I'm prepared for everything that this golf course has to offer. ... I'm comfortable on the big stage. Obviously, this is my first year here, but I've played in a lot of the really high-level events, and that experience has really carried over."
Anna Davis, now 17, was 16 years old when she won last year. This year's 16-year-old crop of players includes Oregon commit Yana Wilson, who won last summer's U.S. Girls' Junior and is a two-time Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals winner.
Two stout 17-year-olds in the field are Japan's Saki Baba, who is ranked fourth in WAGR and won last year's U.S. Women's Amateur, 11 and 9, and Germany's Helen Briem, who shot 66 alongside Rose Zhang and Ingrid Lindblad in the third round of last year's World Amateur Team Championship, which she went on to co-medal at with Zhang and Sweden's Meja Ortegren.
On the mend
Wake Forest sophomore Carolina Lopez-Chacarra hit two shots during last year's practice round because of a right-wrist injury. She shot 76-77 to miss her second cut in as many tries at this championship. And making matters worse, she was unable to play the practice round that Friday at Augusta National, walking the front nine before leaving to head back to Wake for a doctor's appointment.
A year later, the Spaniard is healthy and ready to advance to Saturday for the first time.
"I was worried at first," Chacarra said. "I was like maybe I need to chill. I want to be healthy for the week. But as soon as I hit one, I was like, that was last year, you know, it's not going to hurt this year."
Stanford senior Brooke Seay has had more recent injury trouble. A couple months ago, she suffered her second concussion in as many years. This week marks her first tournament since November when she finished solo 10th at the Pac-12 Preview. She just started hitting full shots less than two weeks ago, but she remains hopeful that she, too, can make it to Saturday for the first time in this event; she missed the cut in her only other ANWA appearance, in 2019.
Seay's teammate, Rachel Heck, withdrew from this week's ANWA last month and underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. She still has no timetable for a return and could miss the rest of the college season.
• Wake Forest senior Rachel Kuehn is coming off her second victory of the college season and owns six other top-12s for the Demon Deacons.
• Kuehn's teammate, fifth-year senior Emilia Migliaccio, is one of three players competing in her fourth ANWA (Zhang and Duke's Eric Shepherd are the others). Migliaccio has a new caddie this year, however, as she's dropped her mom in favor of her fiance, Charlie, whom she met in a writing class at Wake. They are set to be married June 24. "I would say he doesn't react to my shots, which I like," she said. "I don't want to hit it in the bunker and hear, 'Ah,' in the background. Like I hate that."
• USC sophomore Amari Avery, one of five players in this week's field who finished in the top 7 a year ago, arrives fresh off a disappointing T-55 finish at Papago. She's completely switched out her equipment from what she played last ANWA, now sporting 14 different clubs and a new golf ball. "It's going to be tough," she said, "and I have to battle it out; can't really go off what I did last year. I think I'm a different player, so see how it goes. I think I can pull from some good experience."
• Kendall Griffin, the oldest player in the field at age 24, is an assistant coach at Indiana.
• San Jose State has two players in the field, including Kajsa Arwefjall, who was on the Swedish rope skipping team that won a junior world championship.