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'Absolutely heaven on earth': Duke women's golf's Gina Kim and Erica Shepherd tee off at Augusta National

Erica Shepherd, one of three Blue Devils in the field, finished in a tie for 16th at 8-over.
Erica Shepherd, one of three Blue Devils in the field, finished in a tie for 16th at 8-over.

In the golf world, the outset of spring signals one thing—drama returning to Augusta National. 

Last week saw the second playing of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, an exclusive invitational for the top nonprofessional players in women’s golf. This year’s event featured 85 players, and close observers of Duke women’s golf might have recognized a few names. 

Senior Jaravee Boonchant, junior Gina Kim and sophomore Erica Shepherd qualified for the ANWA, which teed off Wednesday at Champions Retreat Golf Club. After the first 36 holes concluded Thursday evening, the top 30 players moved on to the last 18 holes, staged Saturday at the renowned Augusta National Golf Club.  

Setting aside any final results, it was a dream come true for Duke’s triumvirate to compete in the event. Augusta fills the memory banks of viewers, patrons and competitors with exciting moments every year during The Masters, and the fact that the club has expanded its outreach to women’s amateur golf benefits everyone involved. 

“It is absolutely heaven on earth. The first three greens I was actually having to snap myself out of thinking this is a dream,” Shepherd said on Saturday’s round, “The weather was a little cold this morning and somehow when we tee off, it's just perfect, like not even cold. Sun is out. Beautiful day. So when you're out here, it's just hard to think that it's real. And the fact that it is and I am getting to compete at Augusta, it's really special.”

Going into the final round, Kim and Shepherd were at +1 and +6, respectively, as Boonchant failed to make the 36-hole cut after rounds of 79 and 75 at Champions Retreat. Protecting par was the common theme the entire week, with tough conditions posing a challenge to everyone in the field. Only two players, Rose Zhang—the No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Rankings—and Ingrid Lindblad—a sophomore phenom at Louisiana State—stood under par after Thursday’s action concluded. 

Not too far behind, though, was Kim. Rounds of 74 and 71 at Champions Retreat put the North Carolina native in position to strike from the chasing pack, just two shots behind the leaders. 

“It was interesting. I made a lot of great par saves,” Kim said regarding her Thursday performance. “My scorecard may not show it, but it was a bit of a roller coaster. I think just staying patient out there was really the key.” 

Saturday was a slightly different story for the North Carolina native, however. Kim fell out of contention with a front nine 41, with birdies on 11 and 17 being the only circles on the card for the junior. Her birdie on 17 featured one of the shots of the day, as Kim holed out from a greenside bunker to get back to +5. 

In the end, Kim mustered up a final-day 77 in the firm and fast conditions, ending up at 6-over and in a tie for 13th. Being able to test her skills at Augusta, where undulating greens and demanding lines are featured on every hole, was as rewarding as it gets. 

“There's just this vibe, this cool atmosphere that just brings anybody up I think,” Kim said. “It's just such a special place to be, and for [Augusta National] Chairman [Fred] Ridley to give us an opportunity to get out here and just to play and have fun, I think that's really a wonderful experience for all of us.” 

Shepherd, despite not being in contention during the last day of action, still ended up in a tie for 16th at +8. The Indiana native was fairly consistent over her final round, tallying two birdies and four bogeys en route to a 74. Based on her post round interview, Shepherd had a similar outlook as Kim when it came to the pure experience of Augusta.

“That's why it's Augusta National and that's why the Masters is so special,” Shepherd said. “I think that you see the same thing with us playing here. I think that the best player is going to win out here just because of how good the golf course is and how strong the field is.”

The Blue Devils now turn their attention back to team play, with the Cavalier Match Play in Charlottesville, Va., getting started Tuesday. 

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