There were green-jacketed hugs all around for Andrea Lee when she stepped off the ninth green of Augusta National Golf Club on Friday afternoon.
Among the first to greet her was former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a member at Augusta and a professor at Stanford, the university Lee attends.
They’re chummy enough to see each other on the Stanford golf practice range and in early morning workouts at the gym.
Closer to the clubhouse, another woman in a green jacket warmly embraced the 20-year-old Lee, who grew up in Hermosa Beach. It was Heidi Ueberroth, a little-publicized Augusta member and daughter of former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth.
The college golfer and two powerful women acted as hosts when the Stanford women’s golf team visited in January and played at Augusta National — twice.
Lee said she shot six-under 66 in one of the rounds while in the same group as Rice.
“Dr. Rice is my good luck charm,” Lee said with a laugh. “She offered to caddie for me here, and I was, like, ‘Please!’ ”
They were joking, but picture Rice lugging around cubs in Augusta’s signature white caddie bibs.
Logically, Lee has more experience playing Augusta than most of the 71 other golfers in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. After two rounds at Champions Retreat Golf Club, the field was cut to 30 players for the final round at Augusta National on Saturday.
All of the golfers got a chance to play at Augusta on Friday, and most were doing so for the first time.
Lee barely made the cut, surviving an 11-person playoff for the final 10 spots. At three over, she’s eight shots behind leader Jennifer Kupcho, the top ranked amateur in the world.
Of her initial visit in January, Lee said, “It was really special. We went as a team and it was the best weekend of our lives. We played the course and raided the pro shop.”
Seeing Augusta for the first time on Friday was Lee’s father, James. Each player had to make the difficult choice of picking one person to walk with them inside the ropes during the practice round. No media or fans were allowed to watch.
“It’s just something that you never expected,” James Lee said of seeing his daughter play on such an iconic course. “These are the same holes that Tiger [Woods], [Tom] Watson, [Jack] Nicklaus, Arnie [Palmer] played. It’s just incredible.”
With none of the women having played a competitive round at Augusta, there is no telling what will happen when they head out to play. Though Augusta doesn’t release ticket sales numbers, the available tickets sold out and a crowd of at least 20,000 is expected. The television audience figures to be in the millions.
“The pressure and the situation … someone who is behind can come back and win,” said Olivia Mehaffey, a junior at Arizona State who is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. “I think somebody can make a run up the leaderboard. In reality, all 30 players are in contention.”
Mehaffey put the tournament into perspective: “The media attention we’ve seen, the attention it’s getting … this is so good for female sport.”
The players came off Augusta National raving about the pristine conditions, the beauty, the challenging undulation of the greens, and the enormous elevation changes that aren’t obvious on television. They were met with light rain in the morning, which slowed the green speeds, and the skies lightened by afternoon.
“I really love the course. It was like no other course I’ve ever played before,” said 16-year-old Zoe Campos, a sophomore at West Ranch High School in Santa Clarita who has committed to UCLA. “It was really challenging, but I think I can get around the greens and fairways, so it wasn’t as hard as it seemed.”
The women are competing from the members’ tees at about 6,200 yards. That’s 1,000 yards fewer than the Masters. Some holes will be 50 yards shorter. Others will look familiar. The famous par-three 12th, for instance, will play at around 145 yards, with many golfers using seven- or six-irons.
If Campos can manage the course, everyone should. She is 5 feet 2 and weighs 98 pounds. On Friday, she said she hit 15 of the 18 greens in regulation.
The final round will begin with a Masters tradition of a first-tee ceremony for the opening shots. As Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Palmer and Nicklaus have done before, four female Hall of Famers will take the opening swings at Augusta. In order: Se-Ri Pak, Lorena Ochoa, [Nancy] Lopez and [Annika] Sorenstam.
Drawing big laughs in a gathering by the Augusta clubhouse, Ochoa quipped, “Maybe tomorrow we can continue to play.”
Lopez said when the announcement was made last April about the ANWA, she sat for a while in near disbelief.
“I had chills,” she said, “wishing I could be an amateur again so I could come and play in the event this year.”