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Thursday, April 22, 2021

The pressure takes over Kate Smith, but a dream trip to Augusta National awaits

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EVANS, Georgia – More than 13 hours after arriving at Champions Retreat on Thursday, Kate Smith stood by the clubhouse and tried to assess her current mental state.

Asked about her level of fatigue, she chuckled: “I’m at 10.”

“Golf doesn’t normally tire me out,” she said, “but just morning to night under pressure and cameras, that was a lot to me.

A day earlier, Smith, a fifth-year senior from Nebraska who was one of the last players on the field here at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, had set a blistering pace in her first round, dropping 4 cents for her. 11 first holes. She was facing a 7 foot normal when the horn sounded due to bad weather in the area. When a major storm blew, soaking the fairways, the first-round play was called for the day and Smith was the headliner, three strokes from the star-studded field.

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And so this afternoon, in front of the TV cameras for the first time, Smith happily shared her story: about how she’s a major in graphic design who is currently working two internships. How she received Augusta National’s email last fall, letting her know she was under consideration for an invitation as one of the Top 30 Americans. How the Minnesota native trained in the depths of winter, wanting to start strong. How a recent attitude adjustment – believing she could win here, not just make the cut – had already started to creep into her game, leading to her decisive college victory two weeks ago.

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“I received a lot of attention for 12 holes of golf,” she said.

By the time she left the class, Smith’s phone was inundated with messages. It has been shouted out by television personalities on social networks. With a pressure marathon day for Thursday, she tried to fall asleep at 9 p.m. … and looked at the ceiling after midnight instead.

The 30 players, where they stand for the final of the Augusta National Women’s Am

“I’m just lying there,” she said. “I just thought about my opportunities for the next day.”

What she couldn’t have predicted was an even meaner Champions Retreat. Already set up as one of the most demanding amenities women will face year round, Smith was greeted in the morning with 45 degree temperatures and a constant 20 mph wind coming from an entirely different direction.

Starting again at 7.45am, Smith hit the remaining putt for par, but it was a struggle for the clubhouse. Consecutive bogeys on the n ° 13 and 14 cost him the absolute lead. A brace in 16 gave him – after all that – a 72 par and left him two shots out of the official first round header.

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“I mean, a round of golf is 18 holes for a reason,” she said afterwards.

The internal pressure was already increasing. “Yesterday I had nothing to lose, and today I had everything to lose,” she said. “It happens. Playing in the lead is always a good learning experience.”

Smith had a few hours to kill between rounds, so she called Nebraska coach Lisa Johnson and went over her game plan. She felt confident, ready to bounce back. But the bogeys kept coming – on No.2 and 4, then 6 and 7. Suddenly she was no longer in contention for the title – she was just fighting to make the cut for the top 30.

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“It’s a little helpless, isn’t it?” she says. “So it was difficult, yes. But it was harder to know that my heart rate was out of control and that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do on the course. I was hitting 8-iron irons every day, all the time, and they just weren’t cutting. I was nervous. My heart rate was on the rise. And I was a little quick on the ball.

A double on the 10e hole put him just an isolated hit inside the cut line. She stabilized enough to make six straight pars, but then hit three putts on the 17th green to shoot 79 and fall in a 5-to-1 playoff series.

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On the first extra hole, Smith drove down the middle, but once again his approach didn’t cut. After missing her 25-footer, she and the other playoff contenders could only watch Oklahoma State’s Maja Stark bury her 20-footer to move forward.

While only 30 players will compete in the third and final round on Saturday at Augusta National, each of the 81 competitors will be able to play the game on Friday in a practice round at the Masters home. Smith doesn’t dwell on what might have been. She’s eager to soak up it all, hit shots she only has to imagine – and then seek out the rulers the next day, off the ropes.

“I think it will be a lot more fun now,” she said. “I heard some members talk about Augusta and the way he’s playing right now, and I was already trying to mentally prepare myself for that by being here, and I don’t think I was in the present at all. the weather. It’s a long week, and you need to keep your head down and focus on what’s in front of you.

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“But I’m excited. Glad to be enjoying the week, watching some great golf and cheering on the girls. We have to lift each other up, otherwise it’s not worth it.

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