Jennifer Kupcho had just lost the biggest golf tournament of her life, but there were more balls to be teed.
Two days after a late mishap cost her the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship, the Wake Forest junior-to-be was back home in Colorado for another high-stakes competition — the US Women’s Open Sectional Qualifier. And somehow, bottling up the heartbreak, she came out on top.
Kupcho shot a two-round score of 138 — six under par — to finish in first place at the May qualifier to punch her ticket to the 72nd US Women’s Open at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. July 10-16.
The Westminster native is one of three amateur golfers that will be in New Jersey. 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 away from her first national title when everything went wrong.
With a two-shot lead going into the 17th hole at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., for the NCAA championship, Kupcho was on cruise control. She was the only golfer under par and had just 127 yards to the green. But her tee shot was short and it rolled into a water hazard. Her two-stroke lead turned into a one-shot deficit after a triple bogey and the title went to Arizona State’s Monica Vaughn.
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.’”
For nearly being a collegiate national champion, 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 5-year-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 in to re-focus on her coloring books and Game Boy.
But at age 7, she started showing glimpses of promise, finishing second place 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 stroke he’d 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 CWGA (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 straight CWGA titles overall (Stroke Play and Match Play) and has five majors in Colorado, overall.
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 made a name for herself nationally.
She was 1,134th in the World Amateur Ranking in 2015. Today, she is no. 10. Despite her national championship loss, she was a first-team All-American last season at Wake Forest and won three competitions.
But now Kupcho’s focus shifts to the U.S. Open. She admits she was starstruck as a rookie at the event last year when she failed to make the cut, but she feels more prepared this year and has been going to the longest golf courses in town 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.”