U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Kupcho Looking to Continue Memorable Summer
August 6, 2017 | Chula Vista, Calif.
By Bill Fields
Regardless of what happens this week in the 117th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship – and the rest of 2017 – Jennifer Kupcho has already had a season she won’t soon forget.
The highest-ranked American (No. 4) in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™, Kupcho arrives at San Diego Country Club having experienced the highs and lows of the game, including a freakish on-course accident.
Since the rising Wake Forest University junior finished runner-up in the NCAA Championship in late May, the 20-year-old from Westminster, Colo., has produced a memorable summer.
Two weeks ago, she went wire to wire in winning the Canadian Women’s Amateur, which earned Kupcho an exemption into this month’s Canadian Women’s Open.
Kupcho was part of a two-woman contingent – 2016 USA Curtis Cup competitor and Stanford University All-American Andrea Lee also competed – chosen by the USGA to represent the USA in the 72-hole stroke-play competition. Since 2015, the USGA has sent elite male and female amateurs to several international events, including the South American Amateur, Japan Amateur, British Amateur and Canadian Amateur.
Prior to that, the USGA supported a youth match with China and the Copa de las Americas, a men’s and women’s competition for players from North, South and Central America.
“It was really an awesome experience, people asking you why you have on USGA stuff and being able to explain why you’re representing your country,” said Kupcho of her five-stroke victory over UCLA standout and 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur competitor Lilia Kha-Tu Vu.
Earlier in July, Kupcho was one of four amateurs to make the cut in the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. She finished tied for 21st in her second Women’s Open start.
“Going to the Open last year was cool, but going again this year and making the cut was definitely a great experience,” said Kupcho, who would been low amateur if not for the remarkable performance of Korean teen Hye-Jin Choi, who was in contention for the title before finishing second. “It’s just a whole different thing, making it to the weekend. There is obviously a little bit of gap in the maturity level, but that’s the big difference between amateurs and pros. Otherwise, I think the skill level is there.”
Those highlights came after a heartbreaking finish in the NCAA Championship, where an untimely triple bogey-7 on the 53rd hole – the event was shortened from 72 to 54 holes at Rich Harvest Farms outside of Chicago due to weather – left her one stroke shy of the title won by 2016 USA Curtis Cup competitor Monica Vaughn of Arizona State.
“Golf is a cruel game, and you learn from your mistakes and move on,” said Wake Forest head women’s golf coach Dianne Dailey. “I think that’s the way Jennifer has dealt with it. The NCAAs let her know she can play with anybody, and it was just confirmed at the Open.”
Kupcho’s close call in the NCAAs came after a sterling 2016-17 collegiate season, which saw her improve her scoring average from the previous year by more than 2½ strokes a round. Her 70.61 average shattered the school record and led her to three victories and five additional top-five finishes in 10 events.
Improvement on shots from 75 yards in was pivotal to Kupcho’s scoring dip, as she worked with assistant coach Ryan Potter to hone her wedge play.
“That had been the worst part of my game,” Kupcho admitted. “I used to do a system where I’d make a half swing to hit it so far and a three-quarter swing to hit it farther. Now I generally take a three-quarter swing and control my swing speed to change the distance instead of how far I am taking it back. I started to hit the ball closer to the hole and made a bunch of birdies on par 5s.”
Dailey said it was a case of using technology to breed feel.
“We started having her play distance-control games on TrackMan,” Dailey said. “We’d call out a distance, she’d hit, and then we’d see exactly how far the ball had gone. We were trying to help her develop a feel and touch on her shots.”
Kupcho was a steadying influence in the spring for the Demon Deacons, who had to deal with the surprise departure of two key players – Mathilda Cappeliez and Sierra Brooks. Cappeliez is a two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinalist (2015 and 2016) and Brooks was the runner-up to Hannah O’Sullivan in the 2015 Women’s Amateur at Portland (Ore.) Golf Club.
“Three of us – Sierra Sims, Erica Herr and me – were working hard to keep the team up as well as we could,” said Kupcho, who qualified for the NCAAs as an individual. “We did the best we could to lead the team with what we had going on. It was definitely hard, but we had to be strong and put up a fight.”
Dealing with a depleted roster came on the heels of Kupcho sustaining a concussion during the first round of a college tournament in California on Feb. 12. Kupcho was getting shuttled in a motorized cart on the 11th hole at Palos Verdes Golf Club when a spectator became entangled in Kupcho’s push cart, which she was dragging alongside her on the motorized cart. She was yanked off the vehicle’s seat and fell on the path, striking the back of her head. That Kupcho wanted to finish playing after getting hurt was no surprise to Dailey. But a post-round test confirmed she had suffered a concussion.
“A trainer came out and thought she was OK, and she finished the round,” said Dailey. “But she didn’t pass the concussion test after the round. I think it was a good month to six weeks before she got all the way back to normal. It was a pretty big spill.”
While the injury cost Kupcho some time away from the course, it didn’t minimize her postseason or summer schedule. And on the eve of the biggest championship in women’s amateur golf, Kupcho feels more than ready for the test that awaits.
“It’s all exciting,” said Kupcho. “Everyone will be looking for one thing this week: to win that trophy.”
Nobody would be surprised if it’s the feisty Coloradoan who is hoisting the Robert Cox Trophy next Sunday.
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.