Fassi's Augusta stroll latest notch

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, April 11, 2019
Maria Fassi eyes her putt on the first hole during the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., Saturday, April 6, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Maria Fassi eyes her putt on the first hole during the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., Saturday, April 6, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Maria Fassi couldn't help herself.

Just like a superfan may have done, she strolled past the azaleas and the dogwoods on the glorious 18 holes of the Augusta National Golf Course last Friday.

Maria Fassi glance

SCHOOL Arkansas

Class Senior

Hometown Pachuca, Mexico

Family Parents, Andres and Fabiana; brothers Sebastian, Juan Pablo and Franco

Prep UFD High School

Noteworthy Fassi graduated from high school early and enrolled at Arkansas in January 2016. … Has nine individual titles as a collegian. … Named the ANNIKA Award winner as the top collegiate golfer in 2018. … SEC Player of the Year as a junior in 2018. … Seven-time winner as a junior, including the NCAA Austin Regional. … Finished 2018 with a school-record 70.05 stroke average. … Selected to the inaugural Palmer Cup team in 2018. … Qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open last summer. … Second-team All-SEC selection as a freshman in 2016. … Holds Arkansas’ 54-hole tournament record with a score of 200.

But Fassi was not a spectator. The 5-9 senior from the University of Arkansas was among the 72 players invited to play in the first Augusta National Women's Amateur. Fassi was in second place after two rounds at the Champions Retreat course in Augusta, Ga., before heading to Augusta National.

The entire field played a practice round there Friday, where Fassi retraced the footsteps of golf legends.

"On the Friday we had that practice round, that's when I just decided to really soak in the golf course," Fassi said. "It was like sightseeing, I swear.

"I was going behind the trees where Bubba [Watson] hit that amazing shot in the playoff on No. 10. I was going behind the tree where [Phil] Mickelson did something spectacular on No. 13. Same thing on No. 16, just tried to see the shot that Tiger [Woods] hit.

"Everything was just amazing, just being able to experience a golf course, kind of like the guys do, and just looking at how perfect it is and all that was super nice. Of course, we were really grateful with the opportunity that was given to us."

The top 30 golfers finished the tournament with a single round at the showcase Augusta National on Saturday as the first collegiate women to compete on perhaps the most well-known golf course in the world. Fassi, 21, carded a final round 2-under 70 to match her previous two rounds of 70 and finish in second place behind Wake Forest's Jennifer Kupcho, the world's No. 1 amateur woman and the defending NCAA champion.

The experience was like none other, Fassi said.

"It's honestly kind of hard to describe all the feelings and all the emotions I was feeling out there," she said. "Of course, just being able to participate and being able to be in that last group on the last day, it was just a dream.

"Even though the results were not what I wanted them to be, it was still an amazing experience. I enjoyed every second of it. I think we showed the world what women's golf is about. It was a really nice experience and a fun show to watch, I think."

Fassi held a brief lead after a birdie on No. 14 before Kupcho, sparked by an eagle on No. 13, rallied with a closing flurry that resulted in a 5 under on the final six holes. Fassi's incredible leverage from her 5-9 frame and a swing speed of 110 miles per hour was touted by Golfweek magazine's coverage of the final round.

Arkansas women's golf Coach Shauna Taylor compared the effect of Fassi's run at Augusta on the Razorbacks program to that of Stacy Lewis, a two-time NCAA champion and the LPGA Player of the Year in 2012 and 2014.

"It's just like Stacy coming here and having such a tremendous college career," Taylor said. "When our girls perform that way on a stage like that, it just opens the floodgates for our program for the recognition I think we deserve. Because we have a special home here, and her performance on that stage says a lot about her first of all, and second of all she loves Arkansas and loves being a part of it. And what better way than having somebody play so well to showcase our program."

Fassi, a native of Pachuca, Hidalgo in Mexico, was a budding phenom at age 13 when she made her first trip to Fayetteville.

"When I first visited Arkansas, I just knew I wanted to come here," she said. "Of course, coach didn't really say much. I mean I was 13. But I just loved everything out here. I loved the people, I loved the atmosphere. It just felt like home since I stepped foot here."

Gaby Lopez, also a top junior golfer in Mexico whose brothers were one year older than Fassi, signed with the Razorbacks in 2012.

"When she was here, she was only saying great things about Arkansas," Fassi said. "So I came back the years after that."

Fassi received a scholarship offer from Taylor at the age of 14. She said Taylor told her to take a year to look around at other schools before giving her an answer.

"She never pressured me," Fassi said. "She never pushed me to make a decision, where at some other places that I visited that's how I felt. They were, 'Look, this is what we have but you have to decide tomorrow' or 'You have to decide in the next two weeks.' Shauna was completely the opposite. She gave me a full year to actually go and visit other schools to see what other people had to offer. I respected her so much for doing that."

Fassi visited a bunch of top schools before settling on a final three of Arkansas, Miami and Florida.

"I guess those were the top three, but I knew deep down it was only Arkansas I was going to come to, you know," she said.

Fassi's junior year in 2018 was loaded with achievements, including the ANNIKA Award as the top player in college golf, SEC Player of the Year, and a first-team All-America selection by the Women's Golf Coaches Association. She won seven events, capped by the school's first NCAA regional medalist honors when she captured the NCAA Austin Regional.

Fassi was ranked No. 1 in the country heading into the NCAA Championships, where she and the Razorbacks came up short with a ninth-place finish at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla., one place out of the match play portion of the championship.

The Razorbacks are back in Georgia today for the Liz Murphy Collegiate Classic in Athens, Ga., one week away from defending their SEC title at Greystone Golf & Country Club in Birmingham, Ala. After that, the NCAA regionals beckon, with the enticement of playing the NCAA Championships at the Razorbacks' home course of the Blessings starting May 17 if Arkansas can qualify.

"I think we just have to stay really focused with our task during regionals," Fassi said. "It's real easy for us to jump all the way to nationals, especially knowing we have it at home."

Fassi feels like her game is rounding into shape to close her college career. She finished second, as did the team, at the Evans-Derby Experience in Auburn, Ala., the week before last.

"I'm really happy that my game is peaking at this time of year," she said. "I think I've worked all year for these last few months. I'm happy to see that it's kind of finally coming around.

"I had a really good tournament last week. I had a really good tournament the week before that at Auburn as well. I'm excited to see how the postseason will work out."

Fassi earned an LPGA Tour card last fall in qualifying school, meaning she'll have a few invitations to tournaments early this summer with the chance to earn more. She could have opted to turn pro after her junior season but wanted another run with the Razorbacks.

"There's nothing I love more than playing for something other than myself," Fassi said. "I love it every day when I can just go to the golf course and practice with the team and go to the gym and work out with them and go to tournaments and play for the University of Arkansas.

"I enjoy doing that. I enjoy playing for something bigger than myself. I know I'm not going to have that same opportunity ever again whenever I turn professional."

Fassi is set to graduate in May with a degree in recreation and sports management.

"I just wanted to have a nice last run with the team," she said. "I'm lucky that I love my team. I'm fortunate to have the coaches that I have. I didn't think it was the right decision for me to turn professional.

"I've grown so much and I've learned so many things, not only from my coaches but also my teammates and a lot of people we have working around us. It's been an amazing four years. Honestly, I wouldn't trade them for anything."

Sports on 04/11/2019

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