Augusta bound: The women of Wake Forest are ready for ANWA

Words by
Dan Davies
Augusta bound: The women of Wake Forest are ready for ANWA

In the space of four short years, the Wake Forest Women’s Golf program has created some special history at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. In 2019, Demon Deac Jennifer Kupcho became the first player to have her name inscribed on the silver trophy. When the tournament resumed in 2021, Kupcho’s former teammate Emilia Migliaccio shot a final round 70 at Augusta to make it into a playoff with Tsubasa Kajitani.

This year, Migliaccio is one of three Wake Forest players in the field of 72. The others are Rachel Kuehn and Carolina Chacarra. The Wake Forest women’s team, which started using Clippd at the beginning of the fall semester, is flying high in the 2022/23 season, notching a program-record five tournament victories so far.

While their sights are firmly set on winning the NCAA Championship at Greyhawk in May, the week in Georgia is a highlight of the year and one that generates huge excitement. As all three players reveal, an invitation to play in the ANWA feels like a reward for their play over the previous 12 months. 

The 18th green at Augusta National during the ANWA. Photo: Augusta National

After two rounds at nearby Champions Retreat, the top 30 players qualify for the final day on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. Only a few shots will separate those who make the cut so realistically anyone can win going into the last 18 holes. 

We caught up with Emilia, Rachel and Carolina to talk about what makes the Augusta National Women’s Amateur so special, their insights on playing the world famous masterpiece created by Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie, and what parts of their games will need to at their sharpest in order to be successful in a fortnight’s time.

What does it mean to you to play in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur? 

Rachel Kuehn: It's just such a special event because they invite the 72 best amateur players in the world, so to get to play in such an incredible field at such a really special and iconic venue, it's just incredible. 

Emilia Migliaccio: It's one of those tournaments where it doesn't matter how many times you play, you're so excited when you receive that invitation and you're so grateful for it. It's kind of like a reward tournament. You're just really happy to be there and be amongst all the best players in the world. They treat us like movie stars. 

Carolina Chacarra: They do. You definitely feel like you are a top professional golfer when you go there. They’ll do anything to meet your needs. The facilities are incredible, but everyone's just willing to help you. It just feels really, really nice.

Carolina Chacarra playing in the ANWA tournament. Photo: Augusta National
"Playing in ANWA is like a gift for all the hard work we put in throughout the year" – Carolina Chacarra

Emilia Migliaccio: It's just an incredible tournament to be a part of. I've been counting down the days since I've gotten my invite. 

Carolina Chacarra: Playing in ANWA is like a gift for all the hard work we put in throughout the year. It's a very special place with a lot of history and it's one of the best organised tournaments in amateur golf. It just feels incredible to play that course with that history in a competitive realm. 

Rachel Kuehn: I think it's very special that Augusta has chosen to focus on women's amateurs to grow the women's game. There's so many little girls that are seeing this on TV. They can see some representation and see people that aren't that much older than them playing in this incredible event. I think it speaks volumes to what Augusta is trying to do to grow the game.  

Emilia Migliaccio, ANWA runner-up in 2021

Emilia, you watched  your Wake Forest teammate Jennifer Kupcho win in 2019. And then in 2021, the next time ANWA was held, you lost in a playoff. What did you learn from those experiences? 

Emilia Migliaccio: It was really cool to watch Jennifer win. I also watched her win NCAAs in 2018 and she finished runner up the year before, so to compete alongside a player who's now a major champion and get to watch her success was really motivating for me. To be in a very similar position two years later was also really cool. I finished over an hour before the leaders. I shot two under that day and I thought if I got to even par, I had a chance of getting into a playoff. I didn't think one over was going to cut it. I was the clubhouse leader but I was five back so wasn’t really thinking about that. I definitely learned to always stay in competition mode. You can always win. I learned a lot, knowing that I was never out of it. I was really proud of myself. I look back on that memory with fondness, not like, 'Oh man, I lost'.

To the winner, the spoils. Photo: Augusta National
"There’s a very fine line between playing really well and then shooting quite over par" – Emilia Migliaccio

Where does that two-under-par round of 70 at Augusta National in the 2021 ANWA rank in your all-time rounds? 

Emilia Migliaccio: If I didn't put it at one, I don't know what I would put as one! That was my third time ever playing Augusta National but two of those were practice rounds. I remember I hit my second shot on the first hole to seven feet and I barely touched the putt. I was like, 'That's going to be short.' And it kept rolling, rolling, rolling and it went in the hole. I was like, 'Wow, these greens are fast today'.

Rachel Kuehn, winner of six individual collegiate titles

You’ve all played in at least two previous Augusta National Women’s Amateurs before, three in your case Emilia. What have you learned about the Augusta National course?

Rachel Kuehn: It's so special every time. It doesn't get old. You learn new things about the golf course every time. The greens are the trickiest part. They're very undulated and very subtle. You learn new ways that putts are going to break every time you play it. 

Carolina Chacarra: It's way more hilly than you see on TV. The downhill on 10, for example, when you're there and you have to hit that green in two, it's a very big downhill slope. Also on 9, the green is very uphill and you don't really get to see that on TV. I feel like the course is not very long, but it's very technical, so you need to know where to hit it to leave easier putts or easier up and downs. It really makes a difference going with a caddie who knows the course and the strategy. Friday is a practice round at Augusta and it's mandatory to have an official caddie from the club. So, if we get along and I'm comfortable and hopefully I make the cut, then I'll have him caddy with me for Saturday as well. That's something that’s very important there. 

Emilia Migliaccio: What I found interesting was if you're dialled in with your irons, you can shoot low. But if you miss a shot, you're making bogey. I think I made five birdies and three bogeys in 2021 but the bogeys were where I missed my drive and I had to pitch out or I missed the green. It’s really hard up and down, especially if you're short sided. There’s a very fine line between playing really well and then shooting quite over par.

Carolina Chacarra, two-time winner in her freshman year at Wake Forest

What do you think you’ll need to do well to succeed this year?

Carolina Chacarra: I think I drive it very nicely off the tee, which gives me an advantage. If I'm in the fairway, I feel I have a better chance of going at those greens and giving myself a birdie opportunity. Normally my irons are pretty solid as well, so I don't really struggle hitting soft irons into greens or soft wedges. I think that's an advantage there. 

Rachel Kuehn: It's one of those golf courses that you have to be hitting your irons really nicely into the greens. You have to be incredibly precise with where you're landing them because you can very easily get into a lot of trouble. Then you have to be really patient on the greens because the reality is that you're going to have a lot of lag putts on holes that you're just kind of making par on while waiting for the right opportunity. I think it's really important that I hit my irons nicely and that my putting is in tip top shape. 

Rachel teeing off at Augusta in the ANWA. Photo: Augusta National

Emilia Migliaccio: In order for me to play well there, I need to be more external. Sometimes when I go into a tournament round, I can get internal with my swing thoughts rather than being external about what my shot shape needs to be. I think it’s about just playing the course and using my athleticism, which I believe is what allows me to play well. I've been working really hard on my putting for a while. My ball striking is a strength but earlier in the year, it wasn't as good. That's been getting better. You have to chip well, you have to make your putts from nine feet and in. Champions Retreat is a really hard course, so you're going to have a lot of putts for par that are between five and seven feet. 

"Standing on the first tee, even just thinking about it gives me goosebumps" – Rachel Kuehn

Carolina Chacarra: The two courses are kinda different. Champions Retreat is a little longer, so we hit longer irons into the greens. What I struggled with most in the past is getting that distance. The greens are firm, so it’s about where to hit it in order not to go past the pin to give you birdie opportunities. I feel like Champions Retreat is kind of wide from the tee, but it's longer and it's very firm and fast. The greens are probably the hardest thing there.  

What’s it like going through the gates for the first time, driving up Magnolia Lane and then standing on that first tee, waiting to hit your first ever shot at Augusta National?

Emilia Migliaccio: It's hard. You're just mesmerised by everyone who's there. It is hard to kind of get into competition mode because you just want to look around and spend six hours playing. But I think that’s also helped me because in 2021 I was just truly enjoying myself and truly happy to be there. It's a cliche but when golfers say it, you know they mean it. Just being grateful that I'm on the grounds at Augusta National and competing in a tournament at Augusta, it allowed me to just play my game.

Emilia driving at the ANWA. Photo: Augusta National

Carolina Chacarra: There's a lot of history and a lot of great players have walked those fairways and played those holes. After growing up watching the Masters, it’s just really cool to actually be there playing that course.

Rachel Kuehn: Standing on the first tee, even just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. It's just so iconic. You've seen so many incredible golfers and incredible people walk those fairways and then you get to hit the golf shot yourself and you see girls scattered across the golf course. Obviously, it was hard during COVID to get people out there, but the support we get there is just such a special feeling. What Augusta has done for golf has been incredible, so to be a little part of that has been very special. 

Have you set yourself goals for this year's tournament? 

Rachel Kuehn: I think that the goal when you show up to any tournament is to try to win. Hopefully it'll be one of those weeks that it all comes together. What Jen did and what Emilia did was so special to watch and hopefully, we'll be able to have some success again this year. 

Sign up your program to Clippd. Book a demo with Charle Quick