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It was about a month ago now, and Allyson Geer-Park was sitting in her communications class on campus at Michigan State. Cell phones aren't allowed out, so her's was in her backpack. And it was buzzing. Like, a lot.

Once she got out of class, she quickly called her mom.

"She said, 'You've got an envelope in the mail.' I said, 'Don't open it!" Geer-Park said. "I went home that weekend, and of course, it's this beautiful green envelope with a beautiful gold seal on it. It was just incredible.

"I've never seen paper like this in my life. It was so beautiful."

When you're famed Augusta National Golf Club, you do things first-class — even when it comes down to the smaller details, like sending out invitations for your first Augusta National Women's Amateur.

Geer-Park had an idea she was in the mix for an invitation, given her standing in the women's amateur rankings.

"But until you really see it ...," she said last week. "It was really special."

Geer-Park, a 20-year-old junior from Brighton, will tee off at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Champions Retreat Golf Club in Evans, Ga.

She is among 72 players in the field, and the only one from Michigan. It's a 54-hole stroke-play event, with a cut after the first two rounds, Wednesday and Thursday.

If Geer-Park is among the 30 who make the cut, then she will get to play the final round at Augusta, the legendary home of the Masters. The final round is Saturday, and will be broadcast on NBC from noon to 3. Mike Tirico, of Ann Arbor, will be on the call. The tournament is getting plenty of promotion, as a lead-in to next week's Masters.

Even if Geer-Park doesn't make the cut, she will have gotten to say she played Augusta. There will a practice round there for everyone in the field on Friday.

Geer-Park grew up watching the Masters in the spring on CBS, so she knows the layout, especially Amen Corner, the famous three-hole stretch of Nos. 11, 12 and 13. Of course, never did she think she'd have this opportunity to play the course.

"I was just telling someone earlier, I think it's just crazy," Geer-Park said. "You see men, they kind of just study the course and know every single hole, because it was always more realistic for them thinking they'd have a chance to go. And now that the women have the chance to play there, it's incredibly cool just looking at the holes.

"I know the holes. I'm trying to memorize them. I always grew up watching it. It'll be very cool just to step on there."

Augusta has a complicated history with women.

OK, it's actually not that complicated. The club was founded in 1932, and didn't allow a single female member until 2012, when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice became the first.

In the early 2000s, Augusta was in the headlines after Martha Burk, a women's rights advocate, got into a war of woods with then-club chairman Hootie Johnson. The fight didn't get women admitted as members for another 10 years, but it did have an impact, as advertisers expressed concern —leading Johnson, preemptively, to pull all commercials for the 2003 and 2004 Masters.

Nearly two decades later, Augusta is hosting a prestigious women's tournament for the first time.

"It just shows how much women's golf has developed in the last 10 years, just how far it's going to keep going, more doors for opportunity that are going to open from this tournament," Geer-Park said.

"I'm excited to be a part of that history for women's golf."

Geer-Park is playing some of her best golf, hence this invitation. She's won two tournaments this season, including her most recent, in South Carolina last month, when the Spartans as a team also won. She shot a three-round score of 13 under, setting the Michigan State women's program scoring record for a 54-hole tournament. She also won a tournament in September.

On the season, she's averaging 72.15, leading the Spartans, who are ranked 18th in the country, in scoring.

Geer-Park, the Big Ten freshman of the year two years ago and an All-Big Ten first-team selection last season, left for Georgia on Friday, along with her husband, Nick Park, who also is her caddie (except for the Augusta National practice round; players get to use a caddie from the course for that one).

She got her hands on an Augusta yardage book a while back, and she's been watching clips on YouTube, particularly of chips around the famously difficult greens. During that tournament in South Carolina last month, she also played a round with an Augusta member, who offered up some tips.

This will be among the biggest events she's ever played, if not the biggest. She did play in the LPGA Tour event outside Grand Rapids in 2017. She played in the 2018 U.S. Women's Amateur, just days after getting married. She's a two-time Michigan State Women's Amateur champion.

But this, well, this is Augusta.

"My coach (Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll) and I heard about this tournament in the fall, when it was announced," said Geer-Park, who added that sparkling green-and-gold invitation now sits in her room at home. "And that definitely was a goal.

"I'm really thankful to have this opportunity."

tpaul@detoitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

 

 

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