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
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.