PGAs of Europe Golf Development Team Member, Kevin Flynn (PGA of GB&I), recounts his experience of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur with Colombian six-time NCAA winner, Valentina Giraldo…
“When one of my students, Valentina Giraldo, told me that she had been invited to play in the first Augusta National Women’s Amateur (ANWA) I was so excited for her, however when she asked me to coach and caddy for her, my excitement increased to a whole new level – the event was set to be a milestone with Augusta raising awareness about the women’s game.
“In the weeks leading up to the ANWA tournament, Valentina and I were using a web-based platform to communicate, working mainly on full swing, and it was evident that she was swinging well and was in a good state of mind to enjoy the whole experience.
“We were very fortunate to be able to prepare for the tournament at Sage Valley Golf Course – an exclusive members club 20 minutes down the road from Augusta National. Sage Valley has excellent practice facilities as well as an astounding 18-hole golf course. The undulating greens and pristine fairways prepared us well for the task ahead. In August 2019 this forward thinking golf club is due to open a three-hole floodlit course which will allow golf to be played 24 hours a day, an excellent addition to an already outstanding facility.
“The first two rounds of the tournament were played at Champions Retreat Golf Course – another amazing experience for all the women and girls involved. Champions again had very undulating greens, long carries to the fairways, and a number of long par-fours that were going to pose difficulties to the shorter hitters. Valentina and I realised we needed to get the short game razor sharp and so spent most of our time improving wedge control and trajectory of each shot. Going head-to-head with the likes of Maria Fassi and Jennifer Kupcho was not going to be easy, both had qualified for the LPGA tour and hit the ball in excess of 270 yards from the tee box.
“Unfortunately, even with a solid short game, the undulations on the greens at Retreat posed issues and after two rounds of fantastic ball striking, Valentina missed the cut, which really highlighted the fact to me that distance from the tee in the women’s game is crucial to play at the very top. Valentina had trouble reaching seven of the par-fours and when some of the field are able to reach with 7/8-irons this poses obvious difficulties. However, this didn’t stop the excitement of actually being invited to this prestigious event and Valentina (winner of six individual NCAA titles in one year) played her heart out.
“The final day caddying and watching Valentina perform at Augusta National was one of the most memorable moments of my professional career. From the outstanding picturesque entrance of Magnolia lane, to the difficulty of the last drive through the funnel of the treacherous 18th hole, Augusta delivered the most amazing and memorable experience in golf. Valentina hit the first ten greens in regulation and we felt if the first two rounds had been held at Augusta National there was a strong chance she would have qualified. However, this year was not meant to be and we will continue on our quest to find more distance and improve so that next year we can return to this phenomenal place and have a chance of winning.
“The experience that the 72 women and girls had will remain in their memories forever. From talks with players such as Nancy Lopez, Annika Sörenstam and Lorena Ochoa, to the Chairman’s dinner at Augusta National, these moments can only be described as extraordinary.
“The efforts put into the social media marketing, TV coverage, and the way that Augusta looked after every player and their families was simply incredible. Augusta move the needle and the warmth that they showed to the players and their guests at what is quite simply the best golf course in the world was a moment to savour. I am sure with Augusta’s efforts, along with many other initiatives, will ensure women and girl’s golf grows exponentially.
“I thank Valentina for putting her trust in me, I thank her for the memories, and I thank her for her friendship over the last few years.”