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At just 20 years old, Tristyn Nowlin is checking off the biggest box on every golfer's bucket list.

Playing 18 holes at Augusta National? Got it.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be able to actually play it," Nowlin said.

Because of her ranking, the Illinois junior earned a spot at this week's inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur.

The first two rounds of the event are being played at nearby Champions Retreat Golf Club in Evans, Ga.

Nowlin opened Wednesday with a 4-over 76. That's good enough to have her in a tie for 40th among the 72 players. The event includes the best amateurs in the world.

The top 30 at the conclusion of today's second round advance to Saturday's final 18 holes, which will be played at Augusta National.

"I'm actually relatively calm going in," Nowlin said. "I know there's going to be first tee jitters, especially at Augusta National. But I think I'm going into it with the right mindset."

Whether she makes it to the finals or not, Nowlin and all of the other players will have a practice round Friday at the historic course.

Nowlin has competed in important events before. But this one is different. Because of the venue.

"It is the biggest tournament of my life, but I think when it comes down to it, it's a golf tournament," she said. "And I'm going to be playing golf just like any other tournament."

Keeping busy 

Nowlin flew to Atlanta on Monday. She had to quickly get to her hotel before the close of tournament registration.

There was an orientation, followed by an event at SRP Park in North Augusta, S.C. That's home to the Augusta minor league team known as, you guessed it, the GreenJackets.

On Tuesday morning, Nowlin played a practice round at Champions Retreat before a dinner unfolded Tuesday night at Augusta National.

Nowlin brought her own cheering section to Georgia. Her parents, Phillip and Elizabeth, made the trip from their home in Kentucky. Her swing coach and his family and other friends are also attending.

Her grandparents, Roger and Lynn Kelley, live in Kentucky, but will be there in spirit. They made Nowlin a flag that reads "19th hole, good luck Tristyn."

"That meant a lot," she said.

Nowlin doesn't have a score in mind for her first round at Augusta. That's not part of her normal routine.

"My mentality is never try to put a number in my head," she said. "I honestly take it one shot at a time and do all that I can do for that one shot. Whatever the numbers add up to, I'm fine with it as long I've put all I can into each shot."

That's probably why she is a top college player.

"I won't lie, a 59 sounds pretty good," Nowlin said.

Warm welcome

Until 2012, Augusta National didn't have women as members. That changed when Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore joined.

The new tournament gives Nowlin a chance to walk the same fairways as Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

"This opportunity is absolutely amazing," Nowlin said. "I'm very honored."

The tournament offers a sign of progress.

"It's a big step for women's golf," Nowlin said.

And it's a big step for Nowlin, too, who is fully recovered from wrist surgery. That's good news for coach Renee Slone's program since Nowlin's first two seasons with the Illini saw her post two of the program's top five single-season stroke averages.

"I feel good," she said.

The competition is top notch. One of the best amateur fields ever. And it's great prep before Nowlin rejoins her Illini teammates on Sunday at the Clemson Invitational.

But she can't be thinking about the history of the venue during the live round if she plays Augusta National on Saturday. The practice day will give her a chance to be a tourist.

"I'll take it all in, but when it comes down to it, I'm here to play golf," she said. "That's what I'm going to do."

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at