Florida State trio primed to contend at fifth edition of Augusta National Women’s Amateur

After an opening round of 77 last year at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, Lottie Woad stood over a 5-foot putt for birdie on the 18th, hands trembling. It was a straight putt, but sometimes straight putts can be the worst to face.

Was it really straight?

Woad needed to convert to shoot 69 at Champions Retreat Golf Club and qualify for Saturday’s final round at Augusta National. She trusted the line and made the putt and the cut on the number, becoming one of three English players to advance to the final round. Another was Woad’s Florida State teammate Charlotte Heath. Both return for a second AWNA start April 3-6 in Augusta, Georgia.

They’ll be joined by Mirabel Ting a sophomore transfer from Malaysia who began her college career at Augusta University, where she helped the program qualify for its first NCAA Championship last spring not long after losing her father.

“She is one of the few players I’ve ever had that literally hits the center of the clubface every time,” said FSU coach Amy Bond. “The wear pattern on her 8-iron is perfect.”

Last month, Ting returned to Augusta for the Valspar Augusta Invitational at Forest Hills, which she won. Bond said Ting was understandably nervous heading back to Augusta after she left the program, but a couple of warm hugs in the parking lot from familiar faces help lighten the mood.

“Any kid of substance is going to be nervous going back to where they transferred from,” said Bond.

As Ting makes her ANWA debut, Woad, currently No. 4 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, will once again have English national coach Steve Robinson on the bag. Robinson also works as a performance coach for U.S. Open champion Matthew Fitzpatrick and took notes from Fitzpatrick’s caddie last year about how to handle the elevation.

Lottie Woad (courtesy FSU athletics)

Heath, who will have a local caddie on the bag, said playing a practice round with Robinson was massive because he’s particularly good at helping players map out a course – which hole locations are greens lights and which ones are red.

Heath, 22, has been a member of England’s women’s national squad since age 17 and was part of the girls team two years prior to that.

“It’s been a real team,” said Heath of the cohesiveness of Team England. “Everyone wants everyone to do well. We’re texting each other year-round, really making time for each other.”

The big family atmosphere that Health describes rings familiar to other national systems. Team Sweden, for example, makes it a point to involve successful pros in its training programs so that the wisdom can be passed down.

Earlier this week, the USGA announced the inaugural U.S. National Junior Team, which is composed initially of 10 girls and eight boys. The plan is to grow the team to 30 boys and 30 girls over the next three years. Two members of the girls team – Asterisk Talley and Gianna Clemente – are in the ANWA field.

Former USC men’s head coach Chris Zambri, the first head coach for the U.S. National Development Program will be onsite in Augusta. Zambri began his role with the program last November.

“It’s about time,” said Bond. “Now our American players can start getting the funding and support they need.”

The first time Bond had a chance to watch Woad in person after Covid-19 travel restrictions lifted was at the 2022 R&A Girls Amateur at famed Carnoustie, where Woad beat Spain’s Cayetana Fernandez Garcia-Poggio, 7 and 6, in the championship match. Bond thought she’d hit the jackpot.

The long-hitting Woad has six top-8 finishes this season for FSU, including a win at the Annika Intercollegiate last fall, where she co-medaled with three other players. It was a strange little stretch for Woad, who pulled a hamstring, cut her finger making a bagel and hit herself on the bridge of her nose with her 4-wood during the tournament. Coaches feared the whack might have caused a concussion.

“Do I need to bubble-wrap you?” Bond joked.

The elder Heath has warmly looked after Woad during her time in Tallahassee. Heath had a chance to play for an LPGA card last December but opted to skip the final stage of Q-Series and head back to school for a final semester. She’ll graduate in May with a degree in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences.

“I’m hoping not to use it,” she said.

While Woad turns heads with her long game, Bond calls Health’s short game one of the best she’s ever seen. It’s no wonder that they’ve partnered in foursomes a couple times for Team England and shot 8 under both times.

Heath, who won the Smyth Salver for low-amateur honors at last year’s AIG Women’s British Open, recently made a change in swing instructors, opting for a U.S.-based coach as she heads onto the Epson Tour this summer. Her ball position had gotten too far forward and she was coming over the top and lunging at the ball, Bond said. She’s already made vast improvements.

“It takes a lot of guts right before you’re going to turn pro to say I need to make a change and I need to make it now,” said Bond. “That’s a leap.”

Bond described Woad as a high-IQ player who works tirelessly on her game. Once a month Bond gets on a call with Woad and her swing coach, Luke Bone, to nitpick her game because she has such a good handle on the overall picture

Augusta National pays for one loved one to make the trip over to watch the action and that’s a big deal for international players like Woad and Heath. Woad’s 85-year-old grandmother will make her first trip to the U.S. in the coming days along with her father and an aunt. Heath’s parents will be there, too.

The ANWA is at the top of the heap when it comes to amateur golf, said Woad. And she’s not just talking about the trophy.

“When I was out there playing Augusta National,” said Woad, “and you have the crowds of young girls and boys watching. It’s a little bit more than us playing a golf tournament, honestly.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek