Jessica Haigwood’s amateur career is heating up as it comes to an end, as she will fly Augusta University’s colors one last time in this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.
“I’m going to be carrying the bag and wearing the hat,” she said of the Jaguars logos she’s worn for four years. “I’m sure it means a lot to them because if I do play well, people will wonder what is that school that I’m wearing. I’m trying to represent them.”
Haigwood has sprinted to the finish line of her amateur career in style. She won the 3M Augusta Invitational in March at Forest Hills, setting the tournament record for low score. It was her first collegiate tournament victory since her freshman season.
Her confidence grew a little more three weeks ago when she won the Georgia Women’s Open at PineTree in Kennesaw, Ga.
Haigwood, however, has saved her biggest amateur event for last. After four seasons in Augusta, she’s got her degree and a gameplan for turning professional as soon as the U.S. Women’s Amateur is over.
She originally planned to turn pro at the beginning of the summer after Augusta finished its NCAA regional in Athens. But with the U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier staged at her home club in Roswell, her father convinced her to hold off on the LPGA paperwork.
“Why not try it one more time and see what happens,” she said of a championship she can’t remember how many times she’s come up short of reaching.
It proved to be a prudent play, as Haigwood went out in the first group of the day and shot 3-under 69 at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek Course to claim a share of the low medalist honors and snag one of the six available spots in the biggest event in women’s amateur golf.
“I can count on one hand how many times I’ve shot under par there,” she said of the difficult venue she grew up playing. “I’m finally glad I captured that qualifying spot.”
So instead of heading out on mini tours over the summer, Haigwood concentrated on working on her course management skills rather then grinding on technique. It’s a process she took with her to California when she flew out Thursday to spend three days preparing before Monday’s start at San Diego Country Club. She wanted to get comfortable playing the course rather than beating balls on the range.
“I just want to worry about me and the course and try to have fun,” she said. “I’m such a carefree person that I’m very relaxed when I play. I hardly get uptight and always smile, so going out there and having a good time is a goal of mine.”
Ultimately, Haigwood hopes to get through the 36-hole medal play among the top 64 to qualifying for the match play bracket that determines the champion. If she makes it that far, she doesn’t plan on getting embroiled in any controversy like the U.S. Junior Girls Amateur last week where the eventual champion advanced past a semifinal playoff over a 6-inch putt that wasn’t officially conceded.
“No matter what, I will always ask ‘Is this good?’” Haigwood said. “You never know. People might be a little tricky and might let you kind of slip up. I’m not saying she did that, but it could happen. So I’m always very cautious.”
However this week ends, Haigwood is ready to move on after an Augusta career that helped transform her game (and got her an eagle on the eighth hole at Augusta National that she can brag about for a lifetime).
“I’m a complete opposite golfer now than when I came,” she said. “My swing hasn’t really changed but it’s just how I handle myself on the golf course. I’m definitely a better short-game player and have better course-management skills and a positive attitude.”
Those skills should serve her well when immediately after this event ends she’ll call the LPGA and asked them to change her status to professional on her Q-school application that’s already been submitted as an amateur. The first stage of LPGA Q-school is Aug. 24-27 at Mission Hills in Palm Springs, Calif. Advancing past 54 holes secures status on the developmental Symetra Tour in 2018. Her younger brother, Spencer, will caddie for her at the Women’s Amateur and Q-school.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was little girl, just having the opportunity to compete with the best golfers,” she said. “I’m excited and nervous at the same time, but I know I’m capable of doing it.”
While this will be the last time Haigwood officially represents Augusta University, she’ll carry for collegiate experience however far golf takes her.
“I’ll always have the (Augusta) headcovers, but carrying that bag for the last time will definitely be bittersweet and sentimental for sure,” Haigwood said. “I will always be part of Augusta University in some way. I hope one that day when I am professional I’ll be able to give back to them and the community for what they’ve done to help me.”