Meet the only Canadian at the Augusta National women's tournament
Brigitte Thibault playing golf. (source: Fresno State Athletics)
In just five short years, Brigitte Thibault has gone from swinging her first golf club to hitting shots competitively on the most famous course in the world.
The 20-year-old from Rosemere, Que., is one of 72 female golfers competing in next week's inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur and is the only Canadian in the field.
"It's obviously a great opportunity and an honour to be able to go there," Thibault told CTVNews.ca in a recent phone interview.
Thibault said she received her invitation to the event through a phone call from Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley, which turned out to be an emotional experience.
"I was so excited that I was going to cry but I didn't want him to hear me cry," she said.
The Augusta National Women's Amateur, which starts on April 3, pits 72 of the best female amateurs against each other over a 54-hole tournament. The first two rounds of the event will be held at nearby Champions Retreat Golf Club where the top 30 players will advance to play the final round at the famed Augusta National, home of the Masters Tournament on the men's circuit.
Thibault hopes that added pressure of trying of secure a spot in the top 30 after two days -- and with it a competitive round at Augusta -- will offer a glimpse into life as a professional, where missed cuts mean missed paycheques.
"It's a good way to grow into what I want to do later on," she said.
Thibault, the top-ranked Canadian female amateur, is a sophomore at California State University, Fresno where her best finish is a second-place showing at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown back in October.
"That was a good event for me," she said. "I fell short to second place, but was able to manage three good rounds in a row."
Thibault's rise in golf has been nothing short of remarkable.
Growing up, Thibault was a competitive cheerleader, but injuries forced her out of the sport at age 15. She decided to take up golf and just two years later qualified for the LPGA Tour's CN Canadian Women's Open.
"It was crazy, but I can definitely say I knew I wasn't ready for it," she said. "These players were playing for 20 years, and I just got (there) on my second year (of) golf."
When Thibault arrived at Fresno State, she was the 69th ranked Canadian and sat somewhere higher than 2,000 globally. Her ranking left her unable to qualify for a most of the top amateur events.
Joining an NCAA team opened a lot of doors, however, and she notched three top-10 finishes in her rookie season to climb all the way to the top spot among Canadians and 197th in the world.
Emily Loftin, Thibault's coach at Fresno State, said her pupil's game is built around her length off the tee.
"She's certainly one of the longer hitters, not only in our program, but in the game in general," she said. "She just has a lot of power and that makes golf a little more accessible for her."
Since joining Fresno State, Loftin said Thibault has been able to hone in her approach shots, which has been one of the reasons behind her sudden ascent in the world ranks.
"I certainly think the wedge area and sharpening those skills is a big contributing factor," she said. "I think too she's really learned a lot about strategy and course management and how to better manage her game."
Loftin said most of the players that come through the NCAA system already have 10 years of competitive golf under their belt, compared to Thibault's five.
"It's very rare in our sport to see players with such talent and skill that are new to the game," she said. "She's really, truly is still a student of the game and I think that's something really special about her."
Other Canadians at Augusta
While Thibault is the only Canadian competing in the Augusta National Women's Amateur, she is by no means the only Canadian to play at Augusta National this month.
Mike Weir is in the field at The Masters Tournament, having won the 2003 edition of the event.
The third event at Augusta National this week, the annual junior event known as the "Drive, Chip and Putt Championship," features five Canadians: Vanessa Borovilos (Toronto), Anna Jiaxin Huang (Vancouver), Nicole Gal (Oakville, Ont.), Carter Lavigne (Moncton, N.B.) and Andy Mac (Candiac, Que.)