Anticipation for the second-ever edition Augusta National Women’s Amateur could not be any higher. After the huge success of the inaugural event in 2019, the ANWA was canceled last year in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The only silver lining was that those who would have played in 2020 were invited back this year.

The 2021 ANWA kicks off today with a field of 82 elite amateurs taking on Champions Retreat Golf Club in Evans, Georgia. After a 36-hole cut tomorrow, 30 players will advance to Saturday’s final round at Augusta National Golf Club. Just a few years ago, this kind of opportunity was the stuff of dreams for female golfers. Now it’s a tangible goal that young players can strive for.

There are any number of reasons to tune in this week, but here are five especially intriguing storylines to track at the 2021 Augusta National Women’s Amateur:

Battle for top Swede

The Swedish contingent at this year’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur is beyond impressive. Swedes account for four of the top 10 amateurs in the world, and two of them, Maja Stark (No. 6 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking) and Beatrice Wallin (No. 10), finished in the top 25 in the inaugural ANWA.

Hard as it is to believe, Team Sweden may have even stronger prospects. LSU sophomore Ingrid Lindblad has been lights-out lately. The No. 4 amateur in the world and a top-10 machine for the Tigers, she won the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic two weeks ago. Linn Grant (No. 2 in the world) has also been on an absolute tear. Grant turned heads at the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open, making it all the way to the final group on Sunday, and she has won four straight collegiate events this spring.

Regardless of how the Swedes play this week, we’re sure to see much more of these talented women in LPGA events and Solheim Cups to come.

Sister act

The Hou sisters have unfinished business at the ANWA. In 2019, both Yu-Sang and Yu-Chiang (who goes by Vivian) missed the playoff to advance to Augusta National by a single stroke. Considering this year’s larger-than-normal field, making the 36-hole cut will be even more difficult, but the Hou sisters have to like their chances.

Yu-Sang and Vivian—a senior and a sophomore at the University of Arizona, respectively—finished 2020 with excellent play overseas. Vivian reached the top of the amateur ranking in September, a first for a woman from Taipei. In November, Yu-Sang placed second and Vivian T-3 in the LPGA of Taiwan’s Party Golfers Ladies Open. Since returning to college earlier this year, the sisters have shown good form, leading their team to a second-place finish at the Clover Cup in March.

Youth movement

This year’s under-18 group at the ANWA is loaded with potential stars:

  • Rose Zhang is the No. 1 amateur in the world, won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in August, lost in a playoff on the Symetra Tour a couple of weeks ago, and finished T-17 at the ANWA in 2019. We’d be surprised if she isn’t in the hunt on Saturday.
  • The No. 5 amateur in the world, Ho Yu An won twice on the Taiwan LPGA Tour in 2020. Her lowest finish in the pandemic-shortened year was 32nd.
  • At 16 years old, Alexa Pano is the youngest competitor in the ANWA field—a distinction with which she is very familiar. In 2019, she missed the cut here as a 14-year-old. The two-time Drive, Chip & Putt champion has had a historic junior career and appears ready to take the next step.
  • Like Alexa Pano, Amari Avery (and her father) starred in the documentary The Short Game. The child phenom, now 17 years old, is looking to take center stage once again this weekend. Friend of the Newsletter, Shotgun Start co-host, and big-J Journalist Brendan Porath has an outstanding article about Avery for the New York Times.
  • As a four-time Drive, Chip & Putt finalist, Megha Ganne is no stranger to Magnolia Lane. Less than 24 hours after Jennifer Kupcho claimed the ANWA trophy in 2019, Ganne took second place in her age division, receiving a trophy of her own from Masters champion Mike Weir.

Other top amateurs

  • Of the returning ANWA contingent, Zoe Campos and Kaitlyn Papp had the highest finishes in 2019, both tying for fifth. Unfortunately, a positive Covid-19 test will keep Papp from trying to surpass that performance.
  • Olivia Mehaffey’s impressive play alongside Linn Grant has powered Arizona State to three wins in 2021. The Northern Ireland native shot a final-round 62 at the Clover Cup and followed it up the next week with a sixth-place finish at the Symetra Tour’s Carlisle Women’s Golf Classic.
  • Pauline Roussin-Bouchard is rewriting the record books at the University of South Carolina. She has won three times this year, broken her school’s 54-hole scoring record at the Ally at Old Waverly, and broken it again with a 15-under 201 at the Valspar Augusta Invitational. Currently ranked No. 3 in the world, the French star is trending in the right direction.
  • UCLA sophomore Emma Spitz has finished no worse than fifth in every collegiate event she has played this year. In 2018, she became the first Austrian to win the Girl’s British Open Amateur, and she has since risen to No. 12 in the amateur ranking. At the 2019 ANWA, she made the cut on the number and will look to improve on that performance this week.

Format and coverage

Given the limited TV coverage, you may overlook the opening rounds on Wednesday and Thursday, but you shouldn’t. The Island and Bluff nines at Champions Retreat Golf Club proved a stern test in 2019, with only seven players finishing under par after 36 holes. Last year’s action at Champions Retreat ended with a dramatic 11-for-10 playoff, and this year’s larger field could produce an even bigger playoff.

While online streaming of a potential playoff will be available, we have to wonder why the first two days of the ANWA aren’t featured more prominently on TV. After the runaway success of the first edition of the tournament, who would complain about more coverage?

All players, even those who don’t make the cut, will get a practice round at Augusta National on Friday, which means they will have the first look at the course in spring tournament shape since Tiger Woods’s win nearly two years ago.

Okay, one more coverage complaint suggestion: how about taking us behind the scenes of the practice-round day? Until recently, these players never thought they’d set foot on Augusta National as competitors. On Friday, they’ll get to check off that bucket-list item, and watching them do so would be a thrill.

On Saturday, it’s all business. In 2019, we were treated to an unforgettable duel between Jennifer Kupcho and María Fassi. Let’s hope this year’s ANWA delivers another fantastic finish.