Kate Smith was greeted by a cake just days before her trip to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. The women’s golf team wanted to celebrate her, so a cake covered in green frosting wished her well before she departed.
Smith, a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is one of 85 of the top women’s amateur golfers in the world that will compete in the event from March 31–April 3. Smith, alongside all those invited, is guaranteed one round at the Augusta National Golf Club.
The first two rounds will take place at the Champions Retreat Golf Club—15 miles from Augusta National—over two days, Wednesday, March 31 and Thursday, April 1. The entire field will then play a practice round at Augusta National on Friday, April 2. The 30 golfers who make the cut after the first two rounds will then play the final round at Augusta National on Saturday, April 3.
It’s an immense honor to be invited, and one that Smith has worked hard to earn. The Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, native has a long list of honors and awards on her Huskers.com profile. In August of 2020, Smith finished in the top 16 in stroke play at the 120th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship before advancing to the round of 32 in the match play portion of the event. She was named the 2020 Minnesota Golf Association Co-Player of the Year following her win at the MGA Women’s Amateur Championship. She’s also considered one of the top golfers in Nebraska history, being named the Huskers’ first Big Ten Mary Fossum Award winner for owning the best stroke average relative to par for the 2019–20 season.
For Smith, the opportunity to play at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur is a dream come true.
— Kate Smith (@99kate_smith) January 14, 2021
That doesn’t mean the honor doesn’t come without its fair share of nerves too. Smith felt good in the week leading up to her departure, but it was the orientation video and handbook that really hit home once it arrived.
“I’m not going to lie, I watched this 25-minute orientation video and it had me tearing up because I think it’s just like . . . I don’t know, the invitation was such a rush,'” Smith told Hail Varsity. “I was like, ‘OK, awesome. I’m going to Augusta. This is a dream come true.’
“Now that I’m going to go on a plane and go to Augusta, Georgia, and do it, I think that’s like really been setting in. I’m very excited. It’s a big opportunity and it’s definitely the biggest stage I have ever competed on. It’s just really trying to get ready. I’m going to focus on enjoying the week. That’s kind of my goal at this point is just to enjoy it.”
In some ways, you could say Smith was born for this. Her older brother, Karter, played at Drake—and he will caddy for her at Augusta—and her father, Kris, is a PGA golf pro. When she arrived at Nebraska, she was a five-time Minnesota Class 2A state champion (2012-16) and a six-time Class 2A all-state selection (2011-16). Additionally, she was the Minnesota Ms. Golf Award winner in 2016.
“She was raised in a household on the golf course and her dad’s a PGA member and a golf professional to this day,” Nebraska women’s golf coach Lisa Johnson said about Smith. “She grew up around golf. She grew up learning how to hit all the shots, going out playing with her friends. She played a lot more golf than she did practice, because playing’s fun.
“She’s really mature in the sense that she knows her ability and she knows what shot she’s able to hit and she knows her game. When she gets [to Augusta], she’ll realize really the magnitude of the event. It will be important for her to just stay the course and believe she should be there and believe her game is ready and try and stay in the present because they can get charged [up] for any golfer. It’s to stay in the present and not get caught up in the moment.”
Johnson knows what Smith is about to experience. She was at the inaugural event of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019. “I have a really good sense of how big of a deal it is and I’ve tried to impress on Kate,” Johnson said, but she’s not too worried. It will be a challenge, of course, but this is what Smith has prepared for.
“It’ll be the biggest event she’s played in but in golf, we’re trying to stay in the present and focus on what we can control and hit one shot at a time and play the course,” Johnson said. “Don’t let the course play us. Don’t play the field. Just play the course. All these things she’s been taught growing up. It’s exciting for me to watch her process this monumental experience that she’s about to encounter. I think she’ll let her hair down and she’ll do a great job.”
The Wednesday before she left for Augusta, Smith was still deciding what to pack. She laughed that it might end up being a last-minute decision, but she’d get there.
“We can wear whatever we want which is different because when you’re in the middle of a golf season for Nebraska, it’s like I’ve been wearing the same three outfits to compete,” Smith said. “I have all this freedom but I also wouldn’t be here without going to the University of Nebraska. I’m trying to figure out what to wear, what hats to bring and to make sure I’m representing the Huskers well.”
But it’s even bigger than that for Smith. Augusta National Golf Club—home of the Masters—was founded as a men-only private club in 1932. It wasn’t until 2012 when the club admitted its first women: former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore.
When the Augusta National Women’s Amateur debuted in 2019—it was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19—it became another step toward equality in the world of Augusta. For someone like Smith, the opportunity to be part of history in that way is also not lost on her.
“It’s definitely more than golf,” Smith said. “Everything going on with the NCAA and things like that, it’s not very new for women to not have opportunities in sports. It’s something they’re very used to. Unfortunately, I don’t think any experiences are worse than one another [from sport to sport] but golf is definitely a very exclusive sport. We’re proud to be golfers and to be in the golf community, but being a part of the change in the culture is really important.
“I’m just excited. For me to be in this spot playing Augusta and having them put us at such a level, I’m so excited for when our kids are growing up, how much better it’ll be then. I just feel like this is the beginning of hopefully just a much more welcoming space for everyone in golf as well as other sports.”
For Smith, the journey continues on March 31 at Augusta. A dream come true that she hopes will continue to inspire others.
To have her cake and eat it too, you could say. Green frosting and all.