EVANS, Ga. – Kate Smith cried on and off the last few weeks as the Augusta National Women’s Amateur approached.
They were happy and anxious tears.
“It’s probably the best moment of my life so far,” she said. “Kind of everything to gain this week.”
Maybe even a shot at the title.
The senior at Nebraska was the hottest player on the course Wednesday at Champions Retreat when the opening round was suspended because of inclement weather. When play was called, Smith was 4 under through 11 holes – already three clear of the field – and facing a 7-footer for par on No. 12.
“A normal tournament I’d be pretty disappointed,” she said, “but this week, everything has been so awesome, I’m just excited for another day here – another day to go low and make some putts.”
Smith was bogey-free on a day when only two players were in the clubhouse with an under-par score. Rose Zhang, the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion who is the top-ranked player in the world, posted a 1-under 71, along with Spain’s Ana Peleaz. Three other players were 1 under par when the horn sounded, including world No. 2 Linn Grant.
“It was a fun round,” Smith said, “and I’m excited to finish it off sometime soon.”
First-round play is set to resume at 7:45 a.m. ET Thursday. Twenty-nine players have yet to complete their opening round, which could make for a marathon Thursday during which the field is supposed to be trimmed to the low 30 to compete in the third and final round Saturday at Augusta National.
Just seven players broke par after 36 holes at this event in 2019, and Champions Retreat was as unforgiving as ever Wednesday as the wind kicked up ahead of the incoming cold front. Stretched out to nearly 6,500 yards, the course gave the players all they could handle with firm, slick greens that were unreceptive to mid-iron approaches. There’s already been 22 rounds of 77 or worse.
“The greens are very, very difficult, and with the wind, it’s even more difficult,” said Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, the world No. 3 who opened with 75. “That’s the reason why there’s not very low scores.”
Except, of course, for Smith, who will have work to do Thursday morning to keep a clean card. A fifth-year senior at Nebraska, she was notified by Augusta National late last fall that she was under consideration for an ANWA invitation as one of the top 30 American amateurs. Wanting to keep her game sharp, the 21-year-old from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, headed south to Florida during the winter and tested her game against the women’s elite. She also underwent an attitude adjustment.
“I really worked hard the last few months,” she said. “I told myself: You can win this event, not just make the cut. You can be up there. You’re just as good as everyone else.”
A few weeks ago, she won her first college event and now has steamrolled into Augusta, brimming with confidence, ready to star on the biggest stage of her career.