AUGUSTA, Georgia – Tears have flowed for Kate Smith this week. It seems that no preparation to participate in a tournament she has coveted for three years could stop this.
But the floodgates were also opened in another way on Wednesday at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Once she poured a bird putt on the second hole at Champions Retreat, it opened the door for three more in the next nine holes. Smith’s day ended with the sound of a horn, as she faced a 7-foot-par climb on par 4-12.
A downpour swept through the rest of the day, with 29 players in the 82-women’s field yet to be completed.
At that point, Smith, playing in the last group, had a three-stroke lead. Normally it would be a disappointing race to see the end, but not here.
“This week it’s been so great that I’m just excited for another day here, another day to go low and putts,” said Smith, who is finishing a fifth year for Nebraska as she completes a diploma in graphic design.
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It’s the kind of prospect that comes with an unexpected fifth year in college, a great opportunity and perhaps the biggest spotlight on women’s golf. The day before Smith took the lead, she and the rest of the peloton crowded into a fleet of charter buses for a trip along Magnolia Lane to Augusta National and dinner with President Fred Ridley.
“I’ve been crying and for the past two weeks knowing that I’m (coming) here,” Smith said, admitting it’s an emotion that’s part happiness, part anxiety. “Probably the best time of my life so far. A bit of everything to gain this week.
But thank Smith for putting energy into her mental game in the weeks leading up to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. The 21-year-old repeated a mantra to prepare herself. She wanted to focus less on the 36 hole cut and more on the competition.
You can win this event. You can be up there. You are as good as everyone else.
Smith first got the call that she was being considered for this field in November, after a tough week playing a tournament in Waco, TX. It was an instant mood boost, given that Smith remembers exactly where she was sitting and what was going through her head the minute she heard about the creation of ANWA in April 2018.
“It meant more to me than I subconsciously thought,” Smith said. Golfweek in January. “I think I put the pedal to the metal in my competition routine and my training routine.”
Ultimately, Smith earned his place among the top 30 Americans. She was the last player in this category with an end-of-year world ranking No. 161 in 2020.
She played back-to-back tournaments in Florida to start 2021, finishing 12th at the prestigious Sally Amateur – a huge boost for a Midwesterner who typically puts clubs aside in the winter – and won her first varsity title two weeks before ANWA . It’s the biggest stage she has competed on, following her first amateur appearance in the United States in August.
To hear her older brother and caddy Karter, a former college golfer in Drake who now works for a business consulting firm in Des Moines, Iowa, say it, Kate’s mental preparation worked. Kate’s warm-up was solid Wednesday afternoon, the first pure tee shot.
“She’s the one with a lot of confidence, no matter what stage she’s playing on,” Karter said, “and I really appreciate that watching her.
Champions Retreat played a long time in the first round and the greens were firm. Only six players are under par, and only two of those players have completed their turn. Round one will resume at 7:45 a.m., along with round two, with players keeping their pairs and starting times from round one.
Smith said her hitting the ball, especially with her long irons, carried her. There is no reason to change the game plan now, and certainly no reason to overthink it.
“Why ruin a week by putting pressure on yourself?” she says. “That was my state of mind today.”