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Five Duke women's golfers turn in solid performances at the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur

<p>Jaravee Boonchant of Thailand hits her tee shot on hole No. 2 during the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur, Saturday, April 6, 2019.</p>

Jaravee Boonchant of Thailand hits her tee shot on hole No. 2 during the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur, Saturday, April 6, 2019.

In a few short days, 99 men will take over the hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club, preparing for four rounds of play that will decide who ends up with the ever-recognizable green jacket.

But first, it was the ladies' turn to take over 18 of the most famous holes in golf.

A quintet of Blue Devils performed solidly at the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur this weekend in Augusta, Ga., with sophomore Jaravee Boonchant leading the Duke contingent, as she finished with a two-over-par 218 to tie for 12th. Incoming Blue Devil freshman Erica Shepherd also made the top-30 cut to earn a spot in Saturday's final round before ending the weekend in a tie for 23rd, carding a five-over 221.

"This is such a great building experience for me and my game," Boonchant told GoDuke.com Saturday. "The crowds, the atmosphere, the players were all incredible and I hope that I can play well enough to return next year. It will definitely be a goal of mine."

The Bangkok native had a chance to go low in the opening round Wednesday at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Evans, Ga., site of the first 36 holes, sinking a 30-plus-foot putt on the 10th hole of her round to get to three-under-par before a hole-out birdie from the bunker on No. 12 gave her a share of the lead.

It didn't last long, though, as a bogey and then a triple bogey on the following two holes dropped Boonchant right back to even par, and she wouldn't get back into red numbers until the back nine of the second round.

Shepherd, currently the 63rd-ranked amateur in the world despite just being in high school, bounced back from an ugly first nine holes to turn in a bogey-free back nine Wednesday, ending the day under par.

It was a struggle the rest of the week, however. Shepherd shot six-over-par during her final 36 holes, but the bright spot was most certainly a birdie on the 18th hole Thursday to secure a spot in Saturday's final round. The Greenwood, Ind., native put her second shot into the green side bunker before getting up-and-down to card a 75 and avoid a playoff.

That set the stage for Saturday, which began with three birdies on the first nine holes before an ugly finish that included a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 15th hole before bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17.

"I've played in four LPGA events and I've never seen this many people," Shepherd told GoDuke.com after playing Augusta. "I'm just overwhelmed for women's golf and I definitely had nerves, but I play best when I'm like that."

For the rest of the Blue Devils, it was a struggle. Gina Kim, Virginia Elena Carta and Ana Belac all turned in rounds of five-over or worse on Wednesday en route to missing the cut. Kim was the best of the rest, carding a six-over 150 on the first 36 holes.

Still, all five Duke representatives got their turn at Augusta, as the entire field of 70 played a practice round Friday before Saturday's finale.

“It was probably one of the best experiences of my life,” Belac told GoDuke.com.  “I never expected to be able play on such a world class golf course that you can usually see it on television for most people and having the honor of being around the world’s best players and playing on such a great course.”

The Blue Devils' lone senior was rendered nearly speechless.

"It is another type of golf.  It is almost not golf what we played today.  You have to be very creative.  Thankfully we were assigned a caddie, because they were really, really helpful reading the greens and telling us where to hit the ball towards the green.  It was a great experience and I played very well so that made just much better.”

Wake Forest senior Jennifer Kupcho took home the hardware after turning in a five-under 67 Saturday to win by four shots as she went toe-for-toe with Arkansas' Maria Fassi. Kupcho, the world's top-ranked amateur, eagled the par-5 13th hole, becoming the first woman to make eagle at Augusta National in a competitive round, and shot five-under on the final six holes alone to close out the win.

Top-ranked Duke will get a shot at redemption against Kupcho, her Demon Deacons and the rest of the conference in two weeks when the Blue Devils head to the ACC championships at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C. Duke will be in search of back-to-back titles after securing its 21st crown last year.

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