Beth Lilly knows it can sound crazy. After all, who would turn down the chance to compete at the Augusta National?
“I don’t want people to think it was easy for me, or that I was making fun of Augusta,” said Lily, “but I think I’m at a different point in my life now.”
Now an assistant golf coach at Cal Poly, Lillie’s main focus every day is honing someone else’s game. So when the invitation came to compete again at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur this spring, Lilly ultimately decided to turn it down.
“I didn’t think it was in the spirit of that tournament, just to go and play and say I’m gone,” Lilly said. “The more people who can experience ANWA like I did for the first time, and play to win, is the most important thing. It feels right to me, even though it might sound crazy to people.”
Eight months earlier, Lilly was participating in the NCAA Tournament for the University of Virginia. She finished in the top 10 for the second year in a row, then sat next to her assistant coach on the ride home to get help with her resume. While many of her peers headed into the professional ranks, Lilly wanted to help others improve.
“Watching a player take a new ball or hit a really good shot, I didn’t know how good that feeling was,” Lilley said. “Fitting a shot or winning a tournament is cool, but watching someone else help you do it feels even better.”
Lilly, who hails from Fullerton, California, volunteered with her coaches in Virginia all summer after graduation. She used to joke about asking what kind of work they did in their offices, but now she’s well-versed in the behind-the-scenes paperwork.
When Courtney Roberts was hired as the head coach at Cal Poly last summer, she already had her eyes set on Lillie as someone she wanted to bring onboard.
“She was always someone I admired,” said Roberts, the former head coach at Oklahoma State and assistant coach at Washington.
It wasn’t long ago that a coach supervised the men’s and women’s golf programs at Cal Poly. In 2015, the school hired a separate women’s coach, and now both programs have fully funded assistant coaching positions.
Roberts said, “It’s really cool to be here at a time when we have the opportunity to get a lot of firsts,” such as qualifying for the National Championship for the first time.
The Mustangs didn’t have any ANWA-eligible players either, but the guys on this year’s team saw Lilly’s call-up, which she carried in her purse.
“I want them to believe they can do anything,” said Lily. “That they can go wherever their hard work will take them.”
The Mustangs are now in the midst of a six-round qualifier for a premiere championship of the spring season next month at the Tulane Classic in New Orleans. They are currently 92 in the country in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
Lilly, captained in Virginia for three years, graduated with a master’s degree. She won twice and compiled a career scoring average of 73.51 over five years. In 2015, she qualified for the US Women’s Open at the age of 16.
While Lillie didn’t make the cut in the ANWA last year, she was able to play a practice round at the Augusta National on Friday and described it as a fun ride, though the nerves were running higher than expected. You don’t want to remember a bad shot.
Her favorite strikeout was a 3-wood game that found the green in two runs in the fifteenth. Her father walked by her side and “obsessed” with her above all else.
“It felt like it lasted five minutes and five years at the same time,” she said.
Memories that last a lifetime.