Saturday at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur brought plenty of drama in the first two years the tournament was contested. The second-nine duel between Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi in 2019 was the exclamation point at the end of the ANWA’s fantastic debut, and the final round last year saw 17-year-old Tsubasa Kajitani and Emilia Migliaccio suddenly emerge from a leaderboard full of big names.
Those are the moments everyone remembers, but the ANWA has the potential to produce even more drama. The 36-hole cut to determine which players move on to compete at Augusta National on Saturday should be a must-watch. It tends to get lost in the shuffle, however, because of a disjointed and just plain odd schedule.
The ANWA is a 54-hole stroke-play event in which the field is cut to 30 players after the Wednesday and Thursday rounds. This is a fairly common format for prestigious amateur events. The U.S. Women’s Amateur, for instance, has a 36-hole qualifier before the match-play rounds, as do the Women’s Amateur Championship and the Western Women’s Amateur.
What you don’t usually see at these or any other top men’s or women’s amateur tournaments is a day off and a change of venue after the cut has been made. Instead of riding the wave from the first two rounds into the grand finale, the ANWA takes a timeout for something that should’ve happened before the opening tee shot was hit: a practice round.
The reason for the break is that the first two rounds of the tournament are played at the Island and Bluff nines at nearby Champions Retreat Golf Club. Then, to prepare for Saturday’s final round, all ANWA participants spend Friday at Augusta National. While a practice round is an absolute necessity for competitors (and a lovely perk for those who miss the cut), the effect is a slowing of the momentum and excitement of the first two days.
And those qualifying rounds are exciting. The inaugural ANWA saw an 11-for-10 playoff, with Alessia Nobilio ending up the odd woman out. Last year, Maja Stark of Sweden birdied the first hole in a five-person playoff for the last spot. The accomplishment was particularly meaningful because three of her fellow Swedes—Ingrid Lindblad, Beatrice Wallin, and Linn Grant—made the cut as well.
— Augusta National Women's Amateur (@anwagolf) April 1, 2021
But what if those first two rounds were played at Augusta National? Players would appreciate the extra time at the course and the chance to learn the greens properly, adjust their tactics, and figure out more of the intricacies of a course they’ve seen on TV but, in most cases, never played. Fans would get to see more unfamiliar shots on familiar holes: long irons struggling to hold the severely tilted 10th green, towering hybrids—like Jennifer Kupcho’s from 2019—into the par-5 13th, and position plays on the 15th, which remains a true three-shot hole for most of the women.
— Augusta National Women's Amateur (@anwagolf) April 6, 2019
For any new golf tournament, the first few years are a trial period to see what works and what doesn’t. What works at the ANWA is what works at the Masters: high tension, arresting visuals, and an ever-shifting leaderboard down the stretch. What doesn’t work is a schedule that’s heavy on breaks and light on Augusta National itself. So it’s time for the green jackets to get creative. Give that 36-hole cut the spotlight it deserves, and bring the whole show to the main stage.