Beth Lillie realizes that it might sound crazy. After all, who turns down a chance to compete at Augusta National?
“I don’t want people to think it was easy for me, or I was scoffing off Augusta,” said Lillie, “but I think I’m just in a different stage of my life right now.”
Now an assistant golf coach at Cal Poly, Lillie’s main focus each day is sharpening someone else’s game. So when the invitation came to compete once again in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur this spring, Lillie ultimately decided to turn it down.
“I didn’t think it was in the spirit of that tournament, just to go and play just to say I went,” said Lillie. “The more people that can experience ANWA like I did for the first time, and be going to play to win, is the most important thing. It feels right to me, even though it might sound crazy to people.”
Eight months ago, Lillie was teeing it up in the NCAA Championship for the University of Virginia. She finished in the top 10 for a second consecutive year, and then sat next to her assistant coach on the flight home to get help with her resume. While many of her peers headed to the professional ranks, Lillie wanted help other people get better.
“Watching a player hit a new shot or hit a really good shot, I didn’t know how good that could feel,” said Lillie. “Flushing a shot or winning a tournament feels great, but watching someone else you helped do that feels even better.”
Beth Lillie (Photo courtesy UVA Athletics)
Lillie, who hails from Fullerton, California, volunteered with her Virginia coaches all summer after graduation. She used to joke about wondering what kind of work they did in their office but is now well-versed in behind-the-scenes paperwork.
When Courtney Roberts was named head coach at Cal Poly last summer, she already had her eye on Lillie as someone she wanted to bring on board.
“She’d always been someone who’d impressed me,” said Roberts, a former head coach at Oklahoma State and associate head coach at Washington.
It wasn’t all that long ago that one coach oversaw both the men’s and women’s golf programs at Cal Poly. In 2015, the school hired a separate women’s head coach and now both programs have fully-funded assistant coaching positions.
“It’s just really neat to be here at a time where we have an opportunity to have a lot of firsts,” said Roberts, such as qualifying for the national championship for the first time.
The Mustangs have never had a player qualify for the ANWA either, but players on this year’s team saw Lillie’s invitation, which she carried in her bag.
“I want them to believe that they can do anything,” said Lillie. “That they can go anywhere their hard work will take them.”
Beth Lillie, redshirt junior Jensen Jalufka and head coach Courtney Roberts at Monterey Peninsula Country Club (Courtesy photo)
The Mustangs are now in the midst of a six-round qualifier for their first tournament of the spring season next month at the Tulane Classic in New Orleans. They are currently 92nd in the country in the Golfweek/Sagarin college rankings.
Lillie, a three-year captain at Virginia, graduated with a master’s degree. She won twice and compiled a 73.51 career scoring average over the course of five years. In 2015, she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at age 16.
While Lillie didn’t make the cut at the ANWA last year, she was able to play a practice round at Augusta National that Friday and called it a joy ride, though the nerves were cranking higher than expected. She didn’t want to have to remember hitting a bad shot.
Her favorite strike was a 3-wood that found the green in two on the par-5 15th. Her dad walked alongside and “geeked out” over it all.
“It felt like it lasted five minutes and five years at the same time,” she said.
Memories that will last a lifetime.
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