Erica Shepherd Is Duke Bound After Competing at Augusta National Women’s Amateur In April

Photography Provided by Duke Athletics & Center Grove High School

Center Grove Golfer Erica Shepherd will become a part of history in April when she plays in the Inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship.

Shepherd, a Center Grove High School senior, received an invitation in January from The Board of Governors of the Augusta National Golf Club to participate in the First Annual Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the site of the prestigious men’s tournament, the Masters.

“I have always dreamed of playing at Augusta National and now that has become a reality,” Shepherd says. “I have watched the Masters ever since I can remember. I never thought I would see this, women playing in the Masters, let alone the amateurs. It is incredible to be part of the first one ever. To be there a week before the Masters is going to be special.”

The Augusta National Women’s Amateur was announced in April 2018, by Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley during his annual press conference at the Masters Tournament. Ridley stated at the press conference that this event was established to inspire greater interest and participation in the women’s game by creating a new, exciting and rewarding pathway for these players to fulfill their dreams.

The 18-year-old Shepherd earned this opportunity through sheer hard work. Her longtime golf coach, Brent Nicoson, University of Indianapolis men’s and women’s golf coach and Center Grove resident, says Shepherd needs no motivation.

“As her coach, I don’t have to prepare her,” he says. “She prepares herself. Something she has done since she was young and continues to do. This is why she accomplishes most of her goals. Her golf swing has become self-sufficient. She will be very well prepared when she arrives at Augusta.

“The support she has received has been phenomenal,” Nicoson adds. “It all started with her family. Her parents (Matt & Jerlyn Shepherd) have been awesome. They have supported and given her many opportunities since she was young. She has taken advantage of these opportunities and works extremely hard to get everything accomplished that she wants to.”

Nicoson has learned not to question Shepherd’s ambitions.

“Don’t ever underestimate her,” he says. “When she set her goals three years ago, I warned her that she may have set them too high and she might be disappointed. However, she has almost fulfilled all of them. I quit doubting her a long time ago. For her to be invited to be a part of this event is just another goal she has accomplished.”

Shepherd’s long list of achievements is enough proof to illustrate why she’s a force to reckon with. She has committed to continue her academic and golf career at Duke University, known for both its elite golf program and academics. She represented her country as a member of the 2018 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team and 2017 U.S. Junior Solheim Cup team. She won the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Amateur, and her 2018 highlights included a runner-up finish at the Polo Golf Junior Classic and a second-place tie at The PING Invitational. Shepherd also made the cut in an LPGA event in Indianapolis and qualified for both the U.S Women’s Amateur and U.S Women’s Open.

Even during the cold months, Shepherd practices four to five times a week indoors, preparing herself for the upcoming season.

“During the winter I focus on my fundamentals, making sure they are good heading into the season,” she says.

She is scheduled to play in three tournaments before competing in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in early April.

“I need to get used to tournament mode before Augusta,” Shepherd says. “Playing in these three tournaments will get me prepared.”

Shepherd has had the uncanny ability and confidence to compete at an elite level against the very best golfers from around the world.

When I started going places with her on these big stages, I was more nervous than she was,” Nicoson says. “She just gets up there and rips it down the first fairway. I didn’t understand how she could even swing the golf club with so many people out there watching. Her composure is great.”

This inaugural event will feature an international field of 72 amateurs. The first 36 holes will be contested over two days at Champions Retreat Golf Club, April 3-4. The entire field will play Augusta National for an official practice round Friday, April 5. The final round will take place at Augusta National on Saturday, April 6 and will feature the top 30 competitors who made the cut. The final round will be televised live by NBC Sports.

“It’s everybody’s dream to play at Augusta National,” Nicoson says. “In addition, with it being the first women’s event at Augusta, her parents, the community and I are very proud of her. It will be a very special week for her.”