Jennifer Kupcho (Wake Forest photo)
STILLWATER, OK (May 18, 2018) – As the No. 3 amateur in the world, Jennifer Kupcho
is the ranking member of the Wake Forest women’s golf team. She’s a hero this week to her Demon Deacons, too, after pouring in a birdie putt in a team playoff nine days ago to clinch her team’s place in this NCAA Women’s Championship field.
In the first round on a Karsten Creek layout that was not overly friendly to any other player, the Wake Forest junior out-Kupcho-ed even herself. She dropped a 25-footer for eagle on her final hole for a 7-under 65 that tied the course record.
“She’s a savage,” said one teammate from off the green, minutes after the whole squad had erupted at the sight of Kupcho’s eagle.
Kupcho surprised even herself with such a low round.
“I was thinking 2 under, maybe a little lower,” she said of her pre-round goal.
In a word, Karsten Creek is remote. The entrance to the course is a winding path through the countryside, and the trees don’t thin out once you’re on site. The key in scoring is to keep it in the fairway. Kupcho did that on every hole but one. She said she didn’t feel particularly pressured by Karsten’s length – the course is set up at 6,328 yards this week – or by the tight fairways.
“I think it’s a great set-up,” Wake Forest head coach Dianne Dailey said. “If you’re hitting the ball long and straight like she does, it could be scoreable.”
This week marks Kupcho’s third trip to the national championship. She has advanced twice courtesy of an NCAA Regional victory. Kupcho tied for second at last year’s NCAAs, and tied for sixth as a freshman. She shines in the postseason, and this year marks a new experience. It’s not just about Kupcho, but the whole team. It makes the whole experience that much more exciting – and a lot less awkward, she noted.
Fortunately, the academic postseason at Wake Forest ended before golf postseason began. Kupcho took her last final May 4, which left her free to return home to Westminster, Colo., between NCAA regionals and nationals. She attempted to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open on May 14, but came up short in her qualifier at the Ranch Country Club in Westminster. Other than that, she worked on her short game, which is what Dailey calls her biggest area of improvement in the past three years.
For the past nine days, any time Kupcho has needed a pick-me-up on the golf course – or any time she finds her mind wandering in general – she thinks back to that regional play-off putt. It makes her smile, and it also makes the hole seem a little bigger.
It’s fitting that Kupcho would be the one to get Wake Forest to the national championship for the first time since 2015. Dailey stumbled onto her path by accident five years ago at the 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Sycamore Hills in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Dailey was about to close out a day of recruiting, and was walking through the parking lot when she heard a loud smack. It was the sound of Kupcho teeing off. A trail of coaches from her native Colorado were behind her, so Dailey started digging. She tracked Kupcho to the Westminster Country Club, thanks to a logo on Kupcho’s father’s shirt, and the head pro there eventually connected the two parties. The rest is history, or maybe fate.
“You go to all these tournaments and you see all these kids and then you just happen upon one,” Dailey said.
Despite Kupcho’s low round on Monday, the Demon Deacons were 18 over as a team, and near the bottom of the leaderboard as the afternoon wave hit the course.
It’s an odd make-up, this Wake Forest team, which makes its road to the national championship that much more interesting. Behind Kupcho, freshman Emilia Migliaccio
has been a consistent force. She won in her second career start at the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate this fall, and her scoring average is on pace to be the third best in program history – behind Kupcho’s for this season and last season.
After that, two transfers (Siyun Liu
from Illinois and Mai Dechathipat
from Auburn) and a recruit from the Wake Forest club team round out the lineup. Injury has plagued Wake Forest these past two years, plus Dailey lost two stand-out freshmen last season. Frenchwoman Mathilda Cappeliez left mid-season last year to return home, and Sierra Brooks did not return after her first year, choosing to transfer to Florida instead.
Wake Forest is a school with a strong golf legacy, and never before in Dailey’s 30 years there has she had to put in a call to the school’s club team for bodies. She did last year in order to be able to field a team at the end of the year. Monica Schumacher, of Orlando, Fla., joined the team at the ACC Championship, won everyone over and became a part of the family.
Schumacher, a junior, shaved 30 shots off her 54-hole score from last year’s ACC Championship to this year’s.
The adversity makes the Wake Forest bond strong. It made Dailey exceptionally proud to see this team qualify for the national championship, especially in the manner they did.
“No one would have given us any chance at all to get to nationals, and they did,” Dailey said.