It’s 2012 and the stars of the show are 1,500 seven- and eight-year-old golf wonders from 60 different countries, all vying for the chance to become US Children’s World Champions on the daunting Pinehurst course.
When it was released in 2013, Augusta National had just included the previous year’s first two female members in former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier and philanthropist Darla Moore.
According to the National Golf Foundation, there are now more than three million junior golfers (ages six to 17) with more than one million girls, up from 25% in 2010 to 34% last year.
On a similar upward curve are Californian Amari Avery and 17- and 16-year-old Floridian Alexa Pano, who won their respective USK categories in Pinehurst in 2012. Nine years later both reached the ANWA field with 82 players.
“I want to be the first woman to play a tournament in Augusta. Girls are just as good as boys,” says a measured pano when we first meet her in the Netflix documentary – the girl who filmed practicing in the rain and then trembles because she’s freezing.
She is the last one to leave the area.
Avery is filmed doing pushups and sit-ups with her father Andre and sister Alona to keep company. She’s now going to the University of Southern California on a golf scholarship next year and knows the importance of hard yards.
“I didn’t have to live up to expectations. I’m my own person, away from ‘The Short Game’. I loved being there, but I want to be talked about about winning a big tournament.”
Although none of the players reached Saturday’s final in Augusta in the 54-hole event – the first two rounds will take place at the nearby Champions Retreat before a training round for all participants in Augusta on Friday – they have time on their side.
Pano, the youngest competitor this year, has increased motivation to return next year just like in 2019 when she also missed the cut.
I miss the cut and the mentos of the grandmother
Pano has already won the drive, chip and putt twice in Augusta and missed the ANWA cut as the youngest player in the field in 2019 and thus missed the chance to play competitive golf on the undulating layout.
Though she was able to play Augusta in a training round, spectators lit their competition fires over the weekend as she watched the then high-ranking amateur Jennifer Kupcho play her last six holes in the five-under-par to be crowned inaugural champion.
The current dynamic around women’s golf may be something that Pano’s grandmother – seen in “The Short Game,” superstitiously clutching a packet of Mentos to bring luck to the young man – saw on the horizon before she died in 2013, shortly after one fourth USK World Championship title for her granddaughter.
“Alexa told her that she was already on the first ride, Chip and Putt. Her grandmother said, ‘No, one day there will be a women’s tournament in Augusta.’
“That was five years before the ANWA announced. The ANWA is by far the greatest thing that has ever happened in golf for women.”
The 2019 tournament was the most watched amateur golf event in the US since 2003 and the most watched women’s golf event since 2016.
Pano was exposed to the biggest stage from a young age, playing the 2016 Yonex Ladies Open in Japan at the age of 11, the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic at the age of 13, and the US Women’s Open at the age of 14.
“I can’t complain because I have had an amazing experience in women’s play, but there are so many things that can be improved or equaled.
“I think everyone out here has had their own struggle, and all a golfer wants is their attention to be on their golf. Not how they are dressed.”
Avery says she learned a lot from “mentor” Carlota Ciganda – the European Solheim Cup winner she played with when the Spaniard triumphed on the Cactus Tour in late February 2020.
“I think women’s golf needs a little help because not a lot of people are watching,” added Avery.
“But I would like to bring a discussion about women’s golf to the table. When I have finished playing, I want to continue to be there on business and help out in the future.”
Avery listens to happy music, likes rapper Drake, mentions Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka for following tennis “like crazy” and enjoying cooking during the pandemic.
There is also a superstitious streak in her family. If you’re looking for good omens, her birthday is on December 30th with five-time Masters Champion Woods, while her initials – ANA – have already been successful at the ANA Inspiration Hosting Course in Mission Hills, California.
All of this is a good sign for the future, as is the W in ANWA after a promising debut – she contested the five-way playoffs for last place in Augusta, but only narrowly missed it.
“The W stands for winners (trophy emoji),” says her proud father in an optimistic WhatsApp message.
Meanwhile, Pano jokes that Adele’s music is “clean enough to play with my father,” but listening to the British superstar has a deeper meaning.
“I feel like every event I’ve won has this one Adele song played: Set Fire to the Rain. So this song really resonates with me.”
And her love for Adele isn’t the only link between golf and music.
Enter former One Direction singer Niall Horan.
In addition to the Englishman Mark McDonnell, the Irish Horan co-founded Modest! Golf to diversify and refresh the sport.
“Angel Yin is 22 and has already competed in two Solheim Cups. She played the US Open at the age of 13 and is a young superstar, but it’s amazing how many people haven’t heard from her and this is a Problem, “added McDonnell, whose company also has German golfer Olivia Cowan and Irish Leona Maguire on their cards.
“We worked with an Irish company and they interviewed young girls about who their heroes are. Every single one of them mentioned a male sports star.
“If I had a daughter, I want her to have icons of people to look up to. Some of the most successful people in sports and business are women, and they deserve the same platforms as men. That’s our humble opinion and that it is the news that we will continue to drive. “
It works with the LPGA / USGA Girls Golf Initiative, which will increase the participation of women ages six to 17 by more than 1,800% from 2010 to 2020 – with a goal of breaking 100,000 by 2022, according to the USGA Play ahead in 2021.
You’re not even 18 years old, but Avery and Pano can already look back with immense pride.
“Young girls and even boys, but mostly young girls, say that the film inspired them to play golf. That was the main thing we wanted to make of it,” said Pano.
“I see my Instagram DMs and when I meet them in person and they say that, it’s the best feeling.”