For many, a trip to the home of the Masters Tournament is tantamount to a religious experience. For James, now age 22, the Augusta, Ga., course plays a prevalent role in her life and golf career even though she has never visited the treasured Alister Mackenzie-designed course on Washington Road.
“My parents didn’t have a name picked out for me,” James said. “So my dad was watching the first round on TV and suggested the name. I guess I’m fortunate that it happened. It’s really cool, but somehow nobody ever remembers my birthday.”
Her father, Geoff, now the golf professional at Loyalist Country Club near their Lake Ontario village home of Bath, and golf enthusiast mother Jean must have known what was to come. Younger brother Austin also got the golf bug, as he is entering his junior season on the golf team at Charleston (S.C.) Southern University.
“Back then you had to stay in the hospital overnight and I was running around the hospital trying to rent a TV to see the first round of the Masters,” said Geoff James, who was then a police officer. “That day was the first time we discussed naming her Augusta. It was just spur of the moment.”
James was introduced to golf at age 5 and by age 8, Augusta was shortened to Gus “because Augusta is sort of a long first name,” she said. James took most winters off to play other sports, but golf was quickly the first choice. She earned a spot on four Canadian National Teams and two World Amateurs, most of the time in tandem with Smiths Falls sensation Brooke Henderson.
When college choices came up, warmer year-round weather was a focus. A handful of Canadian men had matriculated to Raleigh, N.C., and North Carolina State University. Plus, her family had often vacationed in golf hotbed Myrtle Beach, S.C., and her grandparents had a home in nearby Florence, S.C. An All-ACC performer for the Wolfpack, she also won the 2014 Canadian Women’s Amateur one week before Austin captured the Canadian Boys Junior, making them the first siblings to win national titles in the same year.
James made the decision to leave college one semester early after qualifying for the Symetra Tour via last fall’s LPGA Qualifying Tournament.
Yet, her first professional start was a bit of a rude awakening. At the season-opening Gateway Classic in Mesa, Ariz., James shot 72-69 and was in position for a good paycheck. However, in the final round she signed for an incorrect score and was disqualified.
“I realized it later that night and let the Symetra Tour know what had happened,” James said. “I figured out that my paycheck would have been for about $850. It was certainly a tough start. But it was a lesson better learned for $800 instead of $80,000 later in my career. I hadn’t been used to collecting paychecks yet, so the financial part of playing golf hadn’t really sunk in yet.”
Two months later, her Augusta connection took ahold of her again. She practiced in Raleigh the first week of April and drove to Harmony, Fla., for a Suncoast Tour mini-tour event. She finished fourth, four strokes behind LPGA player Ryann O’Toole, shooting a 67 on her 22nd birthday in the final round. She celebrated by watching Jordan Spieth roll to the Masters title that weekend before moving to the Symetra Tour event in Ft. Myers. In the Chico’s Patty Berg Memorial, James played with World Golf Hall of Famer Betsy King and Barb Mucha. She closed with a 67 that included birdies on five of the first six back-nine holes for her first professional victory as she ascended to the top of the Symetra Tour money list.
“It was two weeks where I was really happy where my life was,” James said. “That’s so important. I attribute a lot of that success to just my state of mind.”
Just one month after the win, James lost a playoff at the Symetra Classic in Charlotte, N.C., to China’s Haruka Morita-WanyaoLu to further solidify her lofty position on the Symetra Tour. Through the end of June, James was leading the Symetra Tour in Driving Accuracy at 89 percent. Still, she is focused on the remainder of the season, a key ingredient deciphered from working with World Golf Hall of Famer and Canadian Marlene Streit.
“I’ve learned you don’t get breaks out here,” James said. “It’s only halfway through the season. There’s a lot of golf to be played.”
As for that first trip to Augusta National? Geoff said that’s possibly in the works.
“It’s on our bucket list,” he said. “We’ve just got to get all of our schedules coordinated. It will happen one day.”