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Despite the expected trouble at Champions Retreat, Clarisse Louis always finds a smile

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EVANS, GA – Clarisse Louis spotted this reporter waiting outside the scoring area and grimaced.

“Oh, no,” she moaned. “Why?

Louis had just pulled the worst score of anyone on the pitch here at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, a 16 of 88 opener that left him virtually no chance of making the top 30 and qualifying for the third and final round on Saturday. at Augusta National.

And yet, throughout our interview, she spoke thoughtfully. She smiled. She even laughed sometimes.

“It was really tough – I just wasn’t there, even from the first hole,” she said. “I was so stressed and paralyzed. But I hope tomorrow will be better. I have fun. It’s the least I can do at the moment.

Augusta National Women’s Amateur: open field scores | Full coverage

In a field filled with American stars and decorated juniors, Louis is a special case. While most of the players prepared for this top-notch event while competing in high-level university tournaments or training in a state-of-the-art facility, Louis, who lives in Brussels, had to make do in circumstances far away. to be ideal. .

This is her first tournament in six months, as she is tied at 77e at the European Women’s Amateur Championship last September. Female amateur events are hard to find normally in Europe, and they are even rarer in these COVID times.

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Practice time was also limited. Classes in Belgium were closed last spring due to the virus. Louis tried to stay sharp by hitting balls into a net in her backyard, but she went three months without seeing a ball in midair. Even when the courses reopened last May, golfers – even the best amateurs in the country – were limited to one hour of practice per day. While preparing for this tournament, Louis braved a snowstorm and tried to record 15 hours of practice per week, one hour at a time, jumping on the tram from a half-hour to 45-minute course on the road.

“It’s another world,” she says. “It makes it harder for a lot of these girls.”

It is worth pointing out here that Louis was not a special guest; she qualified to be one of the 82 competitors for Champions Retreat. She is a very accomplished player, having reached the Girls’ British Amateur quarter-finals once and placing third in a professional event. She won four events in 2018, then added six more top 10 rankings in 2019, reaching 46th place in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and earning her an invitation to the first ANWA. Although she missed the cup in 2019, she felt like she belonged. That she was one of them. She reportedly qualified again last year, but the event was called off. Yet due to her high world ranking at the time, she was exempt from this year’s edition.

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“I’m one of the players who shouldn’t be invited if it was this year alone, so I don’t know…” she said, her voice fading. She currently sits at number 186 in the world, due to both inactivity and bad play. “I felt like, OK, I have to do my best, but my best might not be good enough.

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Having played Champions Retreat before (she missed the 36-hole Cup in 2019 after 79-75 rounds), she knew what to expect. So in her limited time on the treadmills, she worked to hit the ball higher, wanting to stop the ball as quickly as possible. But there is no course in Europe that could adequately prepare her for the challenge on and around these smooth, grainy and wavy greens.

“You can’t train at home,” she said, which is part of the reason she carded 12 bogeys, a double and a triple with just one birdie in her first round. “It’s just the kind of life we ​​live in Europe.

“I felt like, OK let’s see what’s going to happen. I’m not as prepared as I hope, but let’s go. Let’s go do that. Let’s go see what comes. And unfortunately, it did not go in the right direction.

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Of course, there are worse places to host an explosive tournament. All week long, players are treated like royalty, with glamorous dinners at the Augusta National clubhouse and Berckmans Place, and Louis is more comfortable in these contexts after having befriended a few French players. , including one of the tournament’s favorites, Pauline Roussin-Bouchard. Everyone on the court – even those who miss the cup – will play a practice round on Friday at Augusta National. Two years ago, Louis took a photo of almost every shot she hit in the practice round. When she flipped through her film a few months later, she could only laugh.

“Like, what am I going to do with this?” she says.

Now her competitive chances are almost over, she wants to set new goals in Augusta: beat her score of 75 in the practice round … and smile more.

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“It’s still amazing and I’m so lucky, and I’m going to enjoy it anyway,” she said. “That’s why I play golf – to have a smile on my face. I’ll take advantage of tonight and see what tomorrow brings.

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