On Jan. 8, the day before her 19th birthday, Caterina Don got a card in the mail at her University of Georgia dorm. It wasn’t from a family member or a friend. It didn’t play music. It wasn’t actually even a birthday card.
But the arrival of the envelope, which bore the distinct Augusta National logo, was celebrated with more joy than any typical greeting card. Don knew the contents. It was the much-anticipated invitation to compete in the second annual Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
“That’s a nice birthday present,” Don said. “I hope it keeps coming.”
Don, a freshman from Italy, is one of three Bulldogs among the 72 players invited to compete the elite tournament. She will be joined there by Candice Mahe, a freshman from France, and Isabella Holpfer of Austria, who has signed with the Bulldogs and will join the team as a freshman in the fall.
“This is so cool,” Mahe said. “We’re going to be three Dogs.”
The first two qualifying rounds of the tournament are April 1-2 at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Augusta. The low 30 scores advance to the final round on April 4 at Augusta National, the Saturday before the Masters begins.
It is the second straight year that Don has been invited to play. A year ago, her invitation arrived a day after her birthday – intensifying the drama — and was received by her grandmother.
“Last year I didn’t know if I was going to get an invitation or not,” Don said. “I turned 18 and that’s pretty big in Italy, so that was a really good birthday gift. My grandma told me something from the U.S. came and she thought Josh (Brewer, Georgia coach) had sent me and Christmas card and I saw the logo and I was like, ‘No, Grandma, that’s not a Christmas card. This is a birthday gift.’”
This year the invitation arrived at the dorm. Don and Mahe were able to share celebratory poses with their precious packages. For Mahe, who has only been on the campus in Athens for seven weeks, it was the realization of a goal.
“It was my dream really,” Mahe said. “Last year, I was in a golf tournament in France and I saw Augusta on TV. I said to my coach, ‘I want to be there next year.’ So that was my major objective to this season. I focused on the tournament in my head and, yeah, it’s a special feeling.”
There was little doubt that both would be invited.
Don, currently ranked No. 9 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, tied for 12th at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019. She was No. 2 in the European Golf Rankings at the end of summer, was captain of Italy’s national team at the Spirit International Amateur Championship, and this fall became the first Georgia player to win her collegiate debut. She is one of 15 players on the watchlist for the ANNIKA Award, given annually to the top female golfer.
Mahe (pronounced ‘MAY’) represented France at the 2019 European Ladies’ Team Championship and the 2017 and 2018 European Girls’ Team Championship. She helped France win the coed title and finish second at the Spirit International. Mahe, currently ranked 42nd in the world, will likely make her Bulldog debut next month at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic.
Holpfer, 18, has been runner-up two straight years at the British Girls Championship. She represented Austria at the 2019 European Ladies’ Team Championship and the 2016-17 European Girls Team Championships. He is ranked No. 88 in the world.
“I think it’s a reward for all the work you put in,” Don said. “You get to play the best tournament in the world on the best golf course.”
Georgia native in the field. Amanda Doherty, a senior at Florida State, earned an invitation for the second year. The Atlanta native survived a playoff to make the cut and finished 21st last year. Doherty, ranked No. 75 in the world, recently won the prestigious South Atlantic Amateur for the second straight season.