Colorado’s Jennifer Kup­cho bounces back from tough fin­ish in NCAA Tour­na­ment.

Wake For­est ju­nior-to-be is ready for a sec­ond shot as an am­a­teur

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Ben­jamin Arthur John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Lose the big­gest golf tour­na­ment of your life. Clear your mind be­fore the dev­as­ta­tion sinks in. Fo­cus on the task at hand. Jennifer Kup­cho did just that.

Two days af­ter a late mishap cost her the NCAA women’s golf cham­pi­onship in May, the Wake For­est ju­nior-to-be was back home in Colorado for an­other high-stakes com­pe­ti­tion — the U.S. Women’s Open sec­tional qual­i­fier in Brighton. And some­how, bot­tling up the heart­break, she came out on top.

Kup­cho shot a two-round score of 6-un­der-par 138 to win the qual­i­fier, punch­ing her ticket to the 72nd U.S. Women’s Open at Trump Na­tional Golf Club in Bed­min­ster, N.J., next week. West­min­ster na­tive Kup­cho is one of three am­a­teur golfers who qual­i­fied. She’ll be com­pet­ing in her sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Open.

“Since (the qual­i­fier) was so quick af­ter the fact, what hap­pened at na­tion­als hadn’t re­ally hit yet,” Kup­cho said. “Be­ing able to win that helped me to bounce back.”

Kup­cho was just two holes from win­ning her first NCAA ti­tle when, with a two-shot lead, when ev­ery­thing went wrong at the 17th hole at Rich Har­vest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. She was the only golfer un­der par and had just 127 yards to the green for her sec­ond shot. But she left that shot short, and it rolled into a wa­ter haz­ard, lead­ing to a triple bo­gey and a one-shot deficit. Ari­zona State’s Monica Vaughn won the tour­na­ment.

Just 48 hours af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing loss, she was back in Colorado com­pet­ing in the Open qual­i­fier.

“I didn’t know what to ex­pect,” said her fa­ther, Mike Kup­cho. “I was like, ‘Boy, this is scary.’ In the first round (of the qual­i­fier), she hits a 66 and I was like, ‘OK, she’s back.’ ”

Kup­cho has come a long way from the lit­tle girl from West­min­ster who wasn’t in­ter­ested in com­pet­i­tive golf.

The Kup­cho fam­ily had an an­nual mem­ber­ship to a course near their home, and 5year-old Jennifer was con­stantly dragged along. She would ride around the golf cart with her fam­ily, get out ev­ery now and then to hit some balls, but climb back into the cart to re­fo­cus on her color­ing books and Game Boy.

But at age 7, she started show­ing glimpses of prom­ise, fin­ish­ing sec­ond at a Colorado ju­nior tour­na­ment. She was fully in­vested in the sport by the next year, and the Kup­chos had con­fir­ma­tion of Jennifer’s bright fu­ture when a camp di­rec­tor said that she had the sweet­est swing he had ever seen.

Kup­cho would go on to win back-to-back state ti­tles at Broom­field’s Jef­fer­son Academy. Last month, she be­came the first golfer in 20 years to win the Colorado Women’s Golf As­so­ci­a­tion Stroke Play three con­sec­u­tive times — win­ning each one by more than a dozen shots. She’s also the first per­son since Wendy Wer­ley (1988 and 1989) to win four con­sec­u­tive CWGA ti­tles over­all (stroke play and match play).

Last Oc­to­ber, Kup­cho was named 2017’s Colorado Golf Hall of Fame per­son of the year.

“I’ve chal­lenged her since she was about in the 10th grade,” said her swing coach, Ed Old­ham. “Back then, I told her: ‘Let’s not be sat­is­fied with be­ing one of the best in Colorado. Let’s try to be one of the best in the coun­try.’ ”

And in two years at Wake For­est, she has done that.

She was 1,134th in the World Am­a­teur Rank­ing in 2015. To­day, she is No. 11. She was a first-team All-Amer­i­can last sea­son at Wake For­est and won three tour­na­ments.

But now Kup­cho’s fo­cus shifts to the U.S. Open. She ad­mits she was star-struck as a rookie at the event last year when she failed to make the cut, but she feels more pre­pared this year. She has been play­ing at the long­est golf cour­ses in the area to pre­pare for the length of the course at Trump Na­tional.

Her goal is to be the low am­a­teur. “I’ve al­ready seen (all the pros),” Kup­cho said. “I’ve al­ready been there, so I know all the feels and ev­ery­thing about (the Open). Hope­fully, I’ll just be able to set­tle down and play my own game.”

Jennifer Kup­cho, a West­min­ster na­tive, started show­ing star power in the sport when she was just 7.

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