EVANS, Ga. – Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi have crossed paths many times in their decorated golf careers. But nothing should compare to what will happen Saturday, when both players will converge at the historic Augusta National Golf Club in the final pairing of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Kupcho, the world’s top-ranked women’s amateur, leads the ninth-ranked Fassi by one shot after shooting 5 under in two rounds around Champions Retreat Golf Club. The stage is now set for a battle between arguably the two favorites entering the week: the skilled Kupcho and the powerful Fassi, two players who figure to separate themselves even more on a difficult Alister Mackenzie design that has crowned the Masters champion since 1934.
“We both are good friends, so I think it will be a lot of fun,” Kupcho said, “and we’re both good at golf – really good at golf – so I think we’ll make a lot of birdies, and it will be pretty fun to watch us.”
Kupcho and Fassi are no strangers to competition with each other. It started as teenagers, when Fassi would travel from Mexico to Kupcho’s native Colorado for USGA qualifiers. For Kupcho, Fassi was confident and intimidating. For Fassi, Kupcho was the only one who could come close to matching her intensity.
“She’s like me, she has a strong look in her eyes, so at first I was like, ‘Who is this girl?’” Fassi said. “I didn’t know about her, but I could feel her energy. I don’t ever get any shock from people, but when I saw her, I was amazed.”
Later as star college players, Kupcho for Wake Forest and Fassi for Arkansas, the two squared off in big events and for awards. Kupcho won the NCAA individual title last year, though Fassi took home the Annika Award as college golf’s top player. It wasn’t until the two played against each other in the Palmer Cup last summer that they became close friends.
That friendship continued to blossom during LPGA Q-Series, where both players earned their cards yet deferred their status until the summer in order to finish their college careers.
“We just bonded over what we both wanted to do,” Kupcho said.
Both players also want to be the first woman to lift a trophy at Augusta National. That path will likely go through the other.
Full-field scores from the Augusta National Women’s Amateur
Kupcho played a near-perfect opening round on Wednesday, hitting every green and shooting 4-under 68. She looked to potentially be running away with things, reaching 7 under on Thursday, before bogeying Nos. 5 and 8 coming in.
“Kind of lost my confidence there,” Kupcho admitted.
She’ll still ride the hot hand into Augusta National as the 36-hole leader, winner of her last two college events and having not three-putted in 101 holes.
Fassi struggled to hole some putts Thursday, but her length helped her put together back-to-back 70s. A day after nearly chipping in at the par-5 14th hole, she delivered a chip-in eagle on the hole in the second round. She added five birdies, including two on her final three holes.
“Just to make that last putt was really nice,” Fassi said. “I even yelled and stuff and got really excited.”
After a practice round Friday, Kupcho and Fassi will tee off in the final pairing at 10:20am ET. They lead a group of 30 women, which also includes Sierra Brooks, Pimnipa Panthong and Kaitlyn Papp (all tied for third at 3 under), into the final round at Augusta National. The world will be watching, too, with NBC broadcasting the finish. And if things go as expected, the final group should deliver an epic battle.
Kupcho was asked if giving up a couple of shots late Thursday will keep her from getting complacent. Her feelings were mixed.
“Obviously, [leading by one shot] will make it very entertaining for everyone to watch.”
But she also realizes the bigger the cushion against Fassi, the better. She knows from experience.