It’s an exclusive view only few have ever seen. And a feeling that few golfers — especially female golfers — have ever experienced.
Annabell Fuller stood on the first tee box of Augusta National four shots back of the lead in the final round of the 2nd annual Augusta National Women’s Amateur— an exclusive tournament inviting the world’s top female amateurs to compete on the same course as the iconic Masters.
The University of Florida sophomore could feel the eyes from the patrons’ and viewers surrounding the tee box. Though she was one of the inaugural competitors to play in this tournament two years before, the feeling was different this time.
With her teammate Addie Baggarly watching and coach Janice Olivenica on her bag, Fuller fixated her bright blue eyes on her teed-up ball. As she stood on the famed first tee box, she saw the runway of green grass laid out in front of her with Augusta’s tall pines surrounding the fairway on either side. Fuller addressed the ball, took a deep breath and drilled it down towards the fairway.
Fuller was one of 82 women, and one of two Florida golfers, selected to compete at the 2021 Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Senior Addie Baggarly was the other Gator invited to compete, giving Florida four different golfers to compete at this novel event in its two-year history.
The two travelled to Augusta, Georgia, in late March and competed among some of the best, young faces in women’s golf. After both Fuller and Baggarly were forced to miss two SEC tournaments in March while nursing injuries, the pair was healthy enough to compete that week.
Baggarly, a senior, had been to Augusta National once before, but nothing compared to this event. The Gainesville-born, Tennessee-raised golfer, along with the rest of the field, was to compete in two rounds of stroke play at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Augusta, before a cut advanced the leading 30 players to a final round at Augusta National Golf Club.
Baggarly’s second round 3-over-par wasn’t enough to overcome her first-round struggles, missing the cut in her first competitive tournament in more than a month. Her experience out at Augusta National, where she and the entire field participated in a practice round the day before the top-30 competed in the final round, was still unforgettable, though.
“It was the biggest stage in all of women’s golf, professional or amateur,” Baggarly said. “I mean, to be there with the top 80 players in the world and you’re fighting to get into the top 30, it was definitely nerve wracking. And I’m just glad I was able to be a part of the experience.”
Between skipping it over the water on No. 16 (a tradition at the Masters where players attempt to skip their ball on the water and land it on the par-3 green during their practice rounds) and walking an empty Augusta National with her dad, Baggarly could see she was part of something special.
“I mean, the girls just got treated like queens,” Addie’s father, Mark Baggarly said. “There’s nothing that Augusta National does that’s not absolutely first class.”
Mark suited up for the Gators Men’s Golf team in the early ‘90’s, helping Florida earn a National Championship along the way while in Gainesville. Though he had quite the collegiate career, Addie’s effort earned her an accomplishment he never had the opportunity to do and still dreams of: playing on Augusta National. Though he’s still yet to play, he was there with Addie, experiencing this famous golf course in a way only a handful of father-daughters have ever done.
“You almost had to pinch yourself to realize that you’re walking in the ropes on the fairways and on the greens at Augusta National,” Mark said. “I mean for her to play it, and to be there with her and watch her, was just one of the highlights of my life.”
Baggarly’s memorable moments don’t end there, though. At the Chairman’s Dinner the day before the competition began, she and the rest of the field piled into the iconic clubhouse to enjoy an unforgettable evening. When she arrived, she saw herself and four other women were to be seated at table two— the table of Fred Ridley, former Gator and chairman of Augusta National Golf Club.
Along with Diana Murphy, former USGA President and the fourth female member of Augusta National, and Bill Forrest, owner of Champions Retreat Golf Club, Baggarly had a memorable night enjoying a dinner with true titans of the golf industry. Her experience at the famed Georgia golf course was one even she could never imagine in her wildest dreams.
“When you’re at Augusta, everything is better. The food tastes better, the freshly cut grass smells better,” Baggarly said. “It’s like Disney World just for golfers.”
The hot, February Gainesville sun shone down on Annabell Fuller as she stood on the 18th green of Mark Bostick Golf Course with a lot of space between her ball and the hole. Sitting with the individual lead and three holes to play in Florida’s Gators Invitational, Fuller knew she needed to put the near 40-foot putt for birdie close to the pin.
Fans and teammates surrounded the sloping green as Fuller knelt down behind the ball to get her read. Aiming almost six feet to the left of the cup, the native Briton gave it a run. It rolled and rolled and rolled, riding the bladed grass towards the hole like a toy train on a track. Fans erupted in cheers as the ball fell perfectly into the cup.
“I can’t miss,” Fuller jokingly recalled of her mindset after sinking the 40-footer that would eventually seal her first career individual championship back in February at UF’s home tournament.
She finished with a final round of 4-under, setting a new career-low and tying Maria Toress for third-best overall tournament score in Gators’ history. Her performance also helped Florida secure its only title of the season as co-champions with Mississippi after tying with team scores of 16-under.
Fuller’s win in late February at Bostick gave her the confidence and momentum she needed to compete at Augusta when the time came in March. She opened the tournament with an even-par 72 to keep her high in contention on Day 1 of the competition.
A three-over 75 second round put her just four shots back of the lead entering the final day of competition. Augusta National proved to be Augusta National, though.
Fuller struggled in her final round, shooting seven-over and finishing the tournament tied for 22nd. Just four of the 30 golfers who advanced to the final cut shot under-par on the final round at Augusta.
“It was pretty special,” Fuller said. “There’s so many good girls playing that you knew that there were such small margins between everyone.”
Florida was one of the few universities who sent more than one representative to Augusta in Baggarly and Fuller. The two said having a teammate to share such a euphoric experience with made it even more special.
“I think it made it really special,” Fuller said. “Even if you go to an individual tournament, we’re still there practicing together and supporting one another.”
The bond the two share has grown throughout the season and their time spent together in Gainesville. Spending hours together at practice, then continuing it into the night with dinners, hang-out sessions and ice cream nights has become routine for the two lady Gators.
For a sport that is so individualistic at its core, college golf brings a rare team-oriented focus. In order to succeed, every golfer has to play well or they hinder the overall team score.
That drive to make each other better is apparent when Baggarly and Fuller are out on the golf course together. Practice rounds between the two often get competitive with typical wagers like a meal from Blaze Pizza or a coffee awaiting the winner courtesy of the loser. Both take their roles of being the best golfer they could be for their team very seriously, knowing a mistake not only costs them individually, but impacts the team as a whole.
“It’s just nice to have teammates in an individual sport, where you’ve grown up playing just by yourself your whole life,” Baggarly said. “Now you’ve got people to root for and people that root you on, as well.
Each now holds an individual experience the two will share their whole life as they prepare for the NCAA Qualifiers in May. Neither walked away from Augusta National with a trophy or crowned champion, but each left with a better understanding of the world of golf and what events like this mean for the future of the women’s game.