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U.S. Women's Open: Top amateurs Maria Fassi and Jennifer Kupcho on to next chapters

Maria Fassi is happy about her decision to hold off on turning pro. The University of Arkansas senior won the 2019 NCAA individual title at her home course on May 20. Shane Bevel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

All eyes were on Maria Fassi and Jennifer Kupcho. As they walked down the 18th fairway on the final day of the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur on April 6, the crowd roared in applause and awe. For the last four hours, the two best amateur players in the world battled it out on one of the most historic courses in the world. The prize: a pristine Tiffany trophy and the honor of being the first female to win a tournament at Augusta National. But, the two college seniors knew that this moment would mean more than just a trophy or a title -- it would be the start of something great in women's golf.

It wasn't until the 16th hole that Arkansas senior Fassi sensed that Wake Forest senior Kupcho would be holding up the ANWA trophy. The No. 1 amateur in the world, Kuphco, sank a 6-foot birdie putt and Fassi three-putted from the top right of the green for a tie-breaking, two-shot swing.

By the time the two women reached the 18th hole, Fassi couldn't help but applaud alongside the patrons and cheer on her friend and competitor. After Kupcho sank her final putt to claim victory, Fassi embraced her in a long hug and whispered in her ear.

"I said, 'You need to get used to this because we're going to be doing this a lot in the future on the LPGA. This is just the beginning,'" Fassi said.

And now, almost two months after dueling it out at Augusta and just weeks after wrapping up their collegiate careers, Fassi and Kupcho will have the opportunity to tee it up again at the U.S. Women's Open at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina. This time, both players will be making their pro debuts at the second major of the year.

For both Fassi and Kupcho, this will be their third appearance at the U.S. Women's Open but their first as professional golfers. Last year, Fassi and Kupcho were the only two players to take advantage of the LPGA's new deferral policy, which allows collegiate players who make it through the qualifying series the opportunity to finish their collegiate seasons before turning professional and joining the LPGA Tour. And, clearly the payoff of the deferral worked in both of their favors.

As a senior at Wake Forest, Kupcho maintained the No. 1 amateur status the entire year and won the ANWA. During her junior year, Kupcho claimed the 2018 NCAA individual title.

"I'm definitely happy that I made the decision to defer and play one more year," Kupcho said. "Just to have the opportunity to play and win at Augusta was worth it. And now, I'll go out and play just like before, except this time my status will be pro."

At the end of her senior year at the University of Arkansas, Fassi won the 2019 NCAA individual title at her home course in Arkansas. Although her team fell short of the championship, Fassi shares a similar sentiment to Kupcho about her decision to hold off on turning pro.

"It paid off deferring the LPGA. That last round at the NCAA championships was super special," Fassi said, "Even though we [the Razorbacks] didn't win, it was so nice to fight one last time with my team. I am very thankful that's the decision I made. Coming back home to Fayetteville for one more year was incredible."

Both Fassi anad Kupcho set the tone for a new wave of women's golf at Augusta, as well as deferring to play in the LPGA to finish their last year in college. Win or lose, they both wanted to show the world that they want to make a positive impact and inspire younger women to play golf -- even at the amateur and collegiate levels.

"We both wanted to make an impact our final year, and I think that's what we did at Augusta beyond just playing well. We showed everyone out there that we can still compete and be good people and friends. I think that last hole and embrace with Kupcho was way more powerful for me than anything else," Fassi said. "We are competitors of course, and I would've loved to win, but I learned so much just from playing with Kupcho. Playing with her, and losing to her, helped me more than anything. I get chills just thinking about it."

Above all else, both Fassi and Kupcho believe that playing golf is about having friends, cheering each other on, challenging each other and having as much fun as possible. And, as they both embark on this next chapter of their professional golf careers, the women feel their ultimate mission is to just enjoy the moment and have fun.

"On that last day at Augusta, Maria and I wanted to just show what an awesome experience this is and that golf is actually fun. That's the message we wanted to send. That's what it's supposed to be about," Kupcho said. "And now as we start our pro careers playing together again the first day with Sierra [Brooks], we are going to continue to just keep doing the same thing. Go out there, play our best and have fun. That goes a long way."

This week at the U.S. Women's Open, the two rising stars' presence will be known after their successful final amateur seasons. Paired with fellow collegiate competitor and friend, Florida junior and NCAA runner-up Brooks, Fassi and Kupcho both maintain that this U.S. Women's Open won't be that different from their last two experiences. Other than the fact that this time they can make money. But money or not, the women are just happy to finally be here.

"I'm just excited to get started as a pro. To play with Kupcho and Sierra in the first pairing will feel like college again, which is fun. But, it's still going to be a big difference playing as pros, whether we realize it or not." Fassi said. "I'm going to try to stay true to myself and focused on my process. That's given me great results in the past."

For Kupcho, she's trying to not dwell too much on this transition to going pro.

"Honestly, it's golf. I'm going to just take it one shot at a time, one day at a time," Kupcho said. "I'm going to try to stay on the leaderboard and play my best."