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Women's Golfers Excited for Opportunity at Augusta National
Women's Golf  . 

Women's Golfers Excited for Opportunity at Augusta National

by Brad Muller, Director of Content

Four members of the South Carolina women’s golf team have the opportunity to compete on hallowed ground as seniors Ana Pelaez and Pimnipa Panthong, sophomore Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, and freshman Paula Kirner will compete in the 2021 Augusta National Women’s Amateur at the historic Augusta National Golf Club from March 31-April 3.
Pauline SEC GOTW March
Pauline  Roussin-Bouchard

“I’m very excited about it,” Roussin-Bouchard said. “It’s a good opportunity for every player to get to play there. The Masters is known throughout the world, and now the (Augusta National Women’s Amateur) is becoming the same after they started it two years ago. I really can’t wait for it.”

“We’re all pretty excited,” said Pelaez. “It is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time now. I’m very glad I’m able to be part of this event. I want to win! I want to enjoy the experience, especially with my dad and my coach being there with me, but I think the reason that it’s pushing me to be better every day is having the goal of winning that week.”

“I think I will be able to enjoy the experience there,” said Panthong, who played in the event previously in 2019. “Of course, I’ll probably be a little bit nervous, but this is going to be my second year, so I’m not as nervous anymore. I’m excited to play in the tournament because the field is very strong. There are going to be a lot of good players.”

“It’s so huge! My thoughts are going crazy,” Kirner said. “I’m super-duper excited because I guess it’s one of the greatest things I’ll experience in life. My last great experience like this was at the Youth Olympics (2018). All the experiences from that were so cool, so I hope to have the same experiences for this event. The whole event will be incredible with the gala, the chairman’s dinner, the surroundings, and being around such great people.
Paula Kirner Augusta Web Header
Paula  Kirner

“Winning this tournament would be pretty amazing. It already means so much to play there, but to win it would be feeling I can’t describe.”

The event was held for the first time in 2019 but was not held last year due to the pandemic. Roussin-Bouchard, Panthong and Kirner were supposed to play last year, and the invitation carried over to 2021. Pelaez earned her spot in the tournament after her outstanding play in the fall in Europe that has her at the No. 13 ranking in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Roussin-Bouchard is ranked third in the WAGR.

South Carolina head coach Kalen Anderson caddied for former Gamecock Ainhoa Olarra (2014-2018) the first time this event was held in 2019 but having four from the program go in the same year is pretty special.

“It speaks to the depth of our team right now,” Anderson said. “It’s a well-deserved honor for each of them who have qualified to compete. They’ve worked very hard, and they were picked based on their World Amateur Golf Rankings. I’m very excited for them. It’s a first-class and unbelievable event, and I know they’re excited.

“We’ve worked hard, recruited well, and developed our players well.”

Anderson won’t be on the bag for any of her four golfers this time, but she looks forward to just being there and watching.

“They’ll get the opportunity to work with an Augusta caddie and learn some things,” Anderson said. “I’m happy to offer any advice that they want.”

“I also hope that they enjoy the moments and realize the opportunity they have and enjoy the process and experience that they get from it.”
– Coach Kalen  Anderson

Playing on one of the world’s most famous and challenging courses, the Gamecocks will be competing against each other as well as many of the best amateurs in the world, so staying focused can be a challenge.

“I’m not scared, but I’m not really sure what to expect,” Kirner said. “Golf is a such a mental game. The tournament probably overwhelms everyone, so I have to stay in the moment and concentrate and not get distracted by the course.”
Ana Pelaez at 2021 Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic
Ana  Pelaez

“I think the field is the biggest challenge,” Pelaez said. “The best amateur players in the world are playing there. It’s going to be hard, but at the same time you have to play your game and see what happens. I have the most fun when I can feel the most pressure. It will be an interesting week.”

“The course is hillier than I saw on TV, and there are a lot of people watching.” Panthong said. “There is a lot of history behind the golf course.”

“There’s a balance to find between playing a tournament like any other tournament, and this will have a very strong field,” Roussin-Bouchard said.  “I don’t feel any more pressure than any other tournament, to be honest. I won’t be together with my teammates, but I’m going to enjoy being there with them. My coach is coming from France, and I will have a caddie. It will be a French atmosphere around me.”

And don’t think they haven’t thought about taking a few selfies.

“I took some pictures last time,” Panthong said with a laugh.

“It’s going to be tempting, but if you take too many pictures, you can’t really enjoy the moment,” Roussin-Bouchard said.  “The only thing is that I wish I could take pictures to show my parents and my brother. They were supposed to come last year, but then COVID hit. They won’t be able to come this year.”

Although women were allowed to play as guests, Augusta National did not allow female membership until Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina alumna Darla Moore were invited to join in 2012. 
Pim Liz Murphey Header
Pimnipa  Panthong

“Playing (Augusta National) was something that was so far away from me (growing up) because it used to not be open for women,” Kirner said. “Now that it’s a possibility, I remember seeing Tiger (Woods) and all the other greats playing there, and I remember all the great moments from the Masters, so I never thought about having the chance to play there. I just really want to enjoy it because I don’t know if I’ll ever have another chance in my life to play there.”

“I never dreamed of playing there because it was mainly something for the men with the Masters,” Roussin-Bouchard said. “I never foresaw myself playing there. When I heard they were doing the tournament a few years ago, then it became a goal to play there.”

As the Gamecocks get set for their chance at history, they’re glad to be able to share the experience with their teammates.

“It’s amazing,” Pelaez said. “The four of us had to book a tee time for the practice round, and we got it together! Even though we’re going as individuals, I think we’re going to enjoy this as a team.”

“Yes, that will make it more fun,” Panthong said. “I’m just going to go there, play my best and enjoy it.”

The first 36 holes of the tournament will be contested over two days on the Island and Bluff nines at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., March 31, and April 1, 2021. The entire field will then play Augusta National for an official practice round Friday, April 2. The final round will take place at Augusta National on Saturday, April 3 and will feature the top 30 competitors who made the cut.

While each of the student-athletes wants to win, Anderson hopes they’re able to appreciate the opportunity while it’s happening.

“They’re all geared up for it, and they all want to compete and try to win,” Anderson said. “That’s all part of it. I also hope that they enjoy the moments and realize the opportunity they have and enjoy the process and experience that they get from it. It’s a rare opportunity in golf. They’re making history!

“Each player is in such a competitive mode right now, and they’re certainly looking at this as a competition. I love that about each and every one of them, especially as we’re heading into our postseason. I do hope they realize that they need to enjoy the moments and take it in. They’re not going to be amateurs for long, so they need to enjoy it.”

Not a bad way to tune up their skills before they head to the SEC Championships which begin on April 14.