By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – The Virginia women’s golf team leaves Friday for South Carolina, where it will compete, starting Sunday, in the Clemson Invitational.
The Cavaliers will be without their best player in Clemson. Anna Redding is in Augusta, Ga., this week. Her absence leaves a sizable hole in UVA’s lineup, but head coach Ria Scott has no complaints.
“This is such a special opportunity,” Scott said. “You just can’t let a student-athlete pass up an opportunity like this.”
Redding, a senior from Concord, N.C., is one of 72 golfers, representing 25 countries, who’ll play in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur tournament. The 54-hole tourney, which starts Wednesday and runs through Saturday, is the first women’s event hosted at the storied Augusta National Golf Club, site of next week’s Masters.
“The 72 of us that are in the field, we’re going to be part of history forever, just because we’re the first,” said Redding, who’s No. 32 in the latest World Amateur Golf Rankings. “It’s incredible just being part of the history of Augusta National. Not many people are ever going to get to say that.”
The first 36 holes of the tournament will be played at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Evans, Ga., a suburb of August. The top 30 players and ties advance to Saturday’s final round at Augusta National, where the entire field will play a practice round Friday.
In November 2014, during her senior year at Cannon School, Redding played at Augusta National. The experience was everything she’d dreamed it would be.
“Everyone just talks about Augusta, and the conditions and the atmosphere,” Redding said. “Everything they say is true. It’s just incredible and so surreal. You walk down the fairways and you’re like, ‘Everyone’s been here before.’ “
Jacob Hendrick, a caddie at Augusta National, carried Redding’s bag during her 2014 round at the club. He’ll caddie for her this week, too.
“I’m so excited, because I remember him very well,” Redding said.
Invitations to the tournament were mailed out in January. Each came in a “beautiful Augusta-green envelope,” Redding said, “with the seal and everything.”
Hers was sent to her family’s home in Concord. When the invitation arrived, Redding was in Florida competing at the Harder Hall Women’s Invitational. On her journey back to Charlottesville, however, she had a connection in Charlotte, N.C., “and my mom drove to the airport and gave it to me there.”
A sociology major, Redding is on track to graduate next month, and academic considerations contributed to her decision to pass on the Clemson Invitational.
Redding competed last weekend at the Bryan National Collegiate in North Carolina, where the Cavaliers placed ninth. The Clemson Invitational runs through next Tuesday, and Redding would be out of class for an extended period if she played that event.
“It would just be a little too taxing,” she said, “just with school and the pressures there, and then wanting to compete at the level that I know I can for the team.”
Scott said Redding “was very thoughtful and very conscious of how [her absence at the Clemson Invitational] would impact the team, but we told Anna that we need her for the long haul this season, and if that means skipping Clemson to feel better about her schoolwork, for her to maintain energy through postseason, we’re good with it.”
Redding led the Wahoos in scoring as a sophomore in 2016-17, with a 74.63 stroke average, and again last season (73.13). She’s first on the team again this season, with a 72.75 stroke average, and has three top-10 finishes. She started the school year in impressive fashion, tying for first at the Mary Fossum Invitational in Michigan in September.
UVA is in its first year under Scott, who previously coached at Oregon. She didn’t know much about UVA’s returning players when she arrived in Charlottesville, Scott said, but she soon discovered why Redding has such a lofty world ranking.
“When you see her hit a golf ball, she’s really long,” Scott said, “and she knows that’s a strength of hers that she needs to use to her advantage. It’s been a real treat to have a front-row seat at Anna Redding’s senior year here.”
Redding, who reached the match-play portion of the U.S. Amateur Championship in 2016, plans to pursue a professional career after graduating this spring.
“The sky’s the limit for Anna, really,” Scott said. “Her length is something that really stands out. When Anna goes low, she goes really low. Basically, when her short game matches up with her ball-striking, you get out of Anna’s way, because she can win against anybody she tees it up against.
“Sometimes I wish she would believe in herself as much as we believe in her, because she’s phenomenal.”
Redding said her first year with Scott, who succeeded Kim Lewellen at UVA, has “been incredible. You never want to lose a coach and have a coaching change, but we really got lucky having Ria come over from Oregon. I’ve really enjoyed her coaching style and her demeanor. She’s been great for this program, and I can see her doing really, really great things in the years to come.”
From the team that finished 22nd at the NCAA championships last year, Virginia returned its top five players: Redding, Beth Lillie, Katharine Patrick, Morgan Gonzales and Julia Ford.
In setting expectations for 2018-19 to the team, Scott said, she and assistant coach Calle Nielson “referenced a Thomas Jefferson quote a couple times to them: ‘I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.’
“This team had success last year, but the idea was, that doesn’t need to be their limit. That’s not the limit. We’re honoring the history. We’re honoring our accomplishments and what was done before, but let’s start fresh.”
The Clemson Invitational is the final tournament of the regular season for UVA. The ACC championships start April 18 in Greensboro, N.C.
“Postseason is definitely on our minds,” Redding said. “I think we’ve got some real potential this year. We did well last year, but after a year of all of us getting more mature in our golf games and getting more acclimated to each other. I think this year we’re the best we’ve ever been.”
The Cavaliers have begun preparing for postseason, Scott said, “especially with some of the things that we’ve presented them over the past couple of weeks in practice. We’ve been talking a lot about how in postseason the results that you need and your scores are always right in front of you. There are leaderboards everywhere. There’s a cut that you need to make. There’s a top eight that you need to finish in to get into match play or get to the national championship. All of those results are in your face, and the message we’ve reiterated is: Stick to your process. That’s what’s going to take care of those results.”