Making history at Augusta 'feels surreal' for Quebec's Brigitte Thibault
Former cheerleader lone Canadian in field at inaugural women's golf tourney
Even though Brigitte Thibault's parents Josee and Daniel had been avid golfers for decades, she was never really interested in the sport until watching the Masters with her family in 2005. It was then, watching Tiger Woods' miraculous chip-in on the 16th green at Augusta National Golf Club, that golf started to grip her.
The 20-year-old Thibault will be making history at the storied course herself on Wednesday as the only Canadian in the field at the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur. Having the opportunity to play that same hole as Woods has given Thibault pause to reflect on how it drew her into golf.
"That chip on 16 was just crazy. I think that's the moment that captured me," said Thibault. "It maybe influenced me because it was just so incredible and everything looked so perfect and everything is mindblowing there.
"I'm not sure what triggered me to really start playing golf. It was so sudden and I feel like someone just took me and said 'this is going to be your future' because now all I see is that."
Thibault, from Rosemere, Que., was seven when Woods made the big shot en route to his fourth green jacket. At the time her interest was still in cheerleading, but as injuries from that sport started to pile up the attraction to golf grew stronger. She's now been golfing for four years and is on the team at Fresno State University in California, where she is a pre-business major.
I was so excited that I wanted to hang up so I could cry.— Brigitte Thibault on receiving the call to play at the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur
Making the field of 72 seemed like a long shot to Thibault, who needed to be in the 30 highest ranked players not from the United States and not otherwise qualified, based on the final women's world amateur golf ranking of 2018.
Thibault was therefore surprised when she was leaving the gym on Jan. 17 and got a call from an anonymous number. It was a tournament official offering her a spot at the elite amateur event.
"I was so excited that I wanted to hang up so I could cry," said Thibault, now ranked 197th. "I didn't want to cry on the phone and so I was trying to keep calm but I was just super excited.
"When the call ended, the only people I could tell was my family. So I couldn't tell anyone for five whole days so everyone was asking me 'why are you so excited?' but I couldn't say anything."
Playing Augusta 'always a dream'
Growing up, the possibility of playing at Augusta was something Thibault couldn't even imagine. Not because she lacked the skill, but because the club didn't allow women to play until 2012. That summer, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore were invited to become the first female members since the club was founded in 1932.
In anticipation of the Augusta National Women's Amateur — the first women's only tournament the course has ever seen — the tournament's Instagram account has posted photos of trailblazing women like Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie, Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and astronaut Sally Ride, among others.
The magnitude of the event is not lost on Thibault.
"It still feels surreal," said Thibault. "It was always a dream of mine, but it was not possible because I'm a woman. That's why this dream was not unrealistic, but not possible, because the rules of the course was that it was men's only.
"The fact that they took the first step in including women on this huge platform, when it's been on everyone's bucket list, I thought it was great."