EVANS, Ga. – Maria Fassi was half asleep when she arrived at The Blessings Golf Club early Monday morning to pick up her golf clubs and hitch a ride to the airport from University of Arkansas assistant coach Mike Adams. But by the time she got to the bag check at Fayetteville (Ark.) Regional Airport and set the travel bag on the scale, Fassi noticed something that quickly opened her eyes.
The bag tag read: Kaylee.
“I was like, ‘Oh my…,’” Fassi said. She had accidentally grabbed the wrong golf clubs, instead taking those of teammate Kaylee Benton.
“[The bags] looked the same at 4 in the morning,” Fassi added.
Luckily for Fassi, Benton was a late addition to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur field and was set to fly out later that morning, so Fassi phoned her teammate and made sure Benton brought Fassi’s bag. All good – or so Fassi thought.
Benton’s flight to Atlanta was delayed and caused Benton to miss her connection. Fassi’s teammate didn’t arrive in Augusta, Ga., until Monday night.
“I was watching the conveyor belt saying, ‘Please let Maria’s clubs be here,’” Benton said.
Without her clubs and stuck with a polar opposite set (Benton and Fassi only play the same wedges, and even those have different shafts), Fassi couldn’t practice at all Monday, so she spent her time going to the gym, watching television and taking a nap.
Two days later, Fassi overcame the lost day of prep and fired a 2-under 70 in Wednesday’s opening round at Champions Retreat Golf Club. The Arkansas senior is two shots back of co-leaders Jennifer Kupcho of Wake Forest and Zoe Campos, a UCLA commit.
“In the end, it wasn’t too bad,” Fassi said.
It was a classic display of resilience by Fassi. Fitting, because Fassi’s brother, Juan Pablo, was in Fassi’s gallery Wednesday sporting a new tattoo just above his left elbow. The ink read: Resiliencia. Or Spanish for resilience.
“It’s a nice word to describe our family,” Fassi said. “We try to overcome tough situations and try to look at the good in the bad.”
Full-field scores from the Augusta National Women’s Amateur
On Wednesday, there weren’t many negatives. Fassi was competing in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. She had several family members and friends watching, including dad Andres, who is the vice president of CF Pachuca, a soccer club in Mexico’s highest professional league. Her mother, Fabiana, and youngest brother, Fronco, were also present. The only immediate family member missing was Sebastian, the oldest brother who is a goalkeeper for Mineros de Zacatecas, which competes in Mexico’s second division.
“What an incredible moment for our family,” Fabiana Fassi said.
Fassi shook off some first-tee nerves and piped her opening drive down the fairway. She hit 10 drivers in the first round, which gave her an advantage over most of the field. Fassi possesses prodigious length thanks in large part to a strong, athletic base that also made her a skilled goalkeeper growing up in Pachuca, Mexico.
Fassi was consistently 30-40 yards past her playing competitors, 14-year-old Alexa Pano and Washington’s Wenyung Keh. She birdied three of four par 5s, including the 510-yard 14th hole, where Fassi needed just 4-iron to get her ball up near the green. She then nearly chipped in for eagle.
“Her length will be quite big for her this week,” said Jose Maria Sanchez, Fassi’s caddie and instructor.
Same goes for Fassi’s resiliency. After a 1-over start through five holes, Fassi birdied three of four holes beginning at No. 7. Later, on the short par-4 15th hole, which features a creek that runs up the right side of the fairway and guards the front of a tricky green, Fassi pushed a hybrid off the tee and her ball sailed right of the creek and into the trees.
As she walked toward her ball, Fassi could only pray that she could play it. As it turned out, her ball took a nice kick off a rock and away from the water, and she was left with an opportunity to punch out back into the fairway. From about 60 yards, she was able to get up and down for par.
All day long, Fassi could hear the support from her family. Andres Fassi screamed his daughter’s name after every crucial made putt. “Maria!” Fabiana kept shouting, “Flaca!” (That’s Spanish for skinny.) After that par save at No. 15, the roars were the loudest.
“Imagine on Saturday,” Sanchez said, referencing the tournament’s final round at Augusta National Golf Club, the home of the roars. “The people are going to think we’re at a soccer game.”
With her golf clubs safely by her side, her lethal power game and the unwavering support of her family, Fassi figures to be a tough out as the Augusta National Women’s Amateur continues. As she’s proven, there are not many obstacles that she can’t overcome.