With Rose Zhang now a pro, the fifth Augusta National Women’s Amateur feels wide open

EVANS, Ga. — At this time last year, it was Rose Zhang celebration week at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Virginia’s Amanda Sambach wasn’t sure whether she should say this part out loud, but with Zhang in the field, it felt a bit like everyone was playing for second.

“This year,” said Sambach, the 2023 ACC champ, “I think there’s a lot up for grabs.”

Now in its fifth edition, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur boasts a major winner among its past champions in Jennifer Kupcho along with Zhang, who became the first player since Beverly Hanson in 1951 to win on the LPGA in her first professional start at the Mizuho Americas Open. Anna Davis, the super chill Auburn freshman who won this event as a 16-year-old two years ago, is the only former champion in the field.

This year’s seasoned field of 72 includes seven players who finished in the top 10 in 2024.

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“I think every one of them thinks they have a chance,” said Florida State head coach Amy Bond, “and that it’s a wide open field. There’s no pure favorite.”

Forty-three players have competed previously in the ANWA, including Emilia Migliaccio, the only one to receive an invitation to all five events. Migliaccio, who lost in a playoff here in 2021, finished up her time at Wake Forest last spring with an NCAA team title.

After deciding to forgo professional golf, she has been trying to fit in a little practice in between her television work. The now married 24-year-old worked three tournaments in a row in the beginning of March – the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate for Golf Channel and the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship for PGA Tour Live.

“When I work in studio, there is a golf course that’s right by the hotel,” said Migliaccio, “so we get like an hour break so I’ll hit for 20 minutes in my first break and my second break, I’ll putt for 30. That’s how I’ve been practicing on the road.

“Obviously not a whole lot of time. I feel like I am getting creative on keeping my practice efficient, and then the last week and a half before ANWA I spent every day on the golf course, six seven hours playing a ton because haven’t had a lot of opportunities to play.”

At least she only has one job this week. Last summer, Migliaccio actually competed in the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach while also working as an on-course commentator.

The format for this year’s event remains the same, with the first two days held on Champions Retreat Golf Club on the Island and Bluffs nines. Many players actually consider Champions Retreat a tougher test than Augusta National.

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The field will be cut to the top 30 and ties after Thursday’s round. Then the entire field will head to Augusta National for a practice round. This marks the first year the field will have a chance to play the Par 3 Course.

With thunderstorms forecasted for Wednesday morning, tee times might be pushed back for the opening round.

“I think this course plays different every year that I’ve come back,” said Rachel Kuehn, who is making her fourth appearance. Kuehn said she has never seen greens roll as perfectly as they do at Champions Retreat.

Asterisk Talley, 15, is the youngest player in the field, having celebrated a birthday on Feb. 15. Migliaccio, who turns 25 on April 24, is the oldest.

While Zhang isn’t in the field, nine Stanford players are represented, including five on the current roster and four commits.

LSU’s Ingrid Lindblad chipped in for eagle on the par-5 eighth at Augusta National last year and birdied the ninth to finish up her Friday practice round. She then told her playing competitor that it would be her last round there. She’d finished in the top three on two different occasions at the ANWA, and after the missing the cut in 2023, the LSU senior thought she’d head on to LPGA Q-School and turn professional.

But then Lindblad decided to reverse course, opting to stay amateur and forgo the final stage of Q-Series after winning the second stage by four shots. She came back for one more ANWA and the chance to win an NCAA title for LSU alongside another fifth-year senior and former roommate Latanna Stone.

The No. 1 amateur in the world, Lindblad comes into Augusta fresh off a 10-stroke victory at the Clemson Invitational where she shot 66-67-65. She’s now the winningest player in SEC history with 14 titles.

“The first day I think I had 14 birdie putts within 20 feet,” she said.

The Swede is primed to finish off in style.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek