Jennifer Kupcho showed her grit and determination (Wake Forest photo)
STILLWATER, OK (May 21, 2018) – Jennifer Kupcho
is a flatliner. That much is apparent by watching her compete on the biggest stages, from the NCAA Championship to the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Kupcho rarely gets excited, and that’s a good thing in golf.
Kupcho will go down in the thick history books of Wake Forest golf as the program’s first female individual national champion. She has been flirting with the title for the past two years, but with her team there every step of the way this time, finally got it done.
“It means a lot to me to have my teammates here supporting me and cheering me on all day,” said Kupcho. Her victory also happened to mark her parents’ 35th wedding anniversary. It was a memorable day on many levels.
Kupcho finished T-6 in her national-championship debut as a freshman. A year ago, she dunked her approach at the 17th hole in water short of the green, took triple bogey, then drove it into a hazard on No. 18. She watched a two-shot lead slip away in those final holes and ultimately tied for second. It’s the kind of experience that can haunt you, if you let it.
“I probably didn’t do as great of job last year on 17 as I needed to, but we talk to our girls all the time about every day is a learning opportunity,” said Wake Forest assistant Ryan Potter, looking back. Potter walked with Kupcho for much of this week as well as last year’s tournament.
Initially, the loss hit Kupcho hard, but days after finishing runner-up, Kupcho qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open (where she made the cut and finished 21st). That made it easier to forget NCAA heart break, and to play on this season as one of college golf’s top players. She won three times this season and helped Wake Forest break a two-year winless streak.
For the past two years, Kupcho’s trip to the national championship has been as an individual. As she noted early week, it’s a lot quieter that way and can be a lot more awkward. This year, she sunk a birdie in a team playoff at an NCAA Regional to get the team here with her. Wake Forest barely missed the 54-hole cut, falling in a team playoff based on non-counting cumulative score.
Kupcho with her teammates (WFU photo)
Without tee times of their own, the Demon Deacons were dressed, chipper and ready to go Monday afternoon as their team captain took the course. They walked all 18 with Kupcho and doused her on the 18th after her winning putt. It felt like a real LPGA moment, but Kupcho isn’t getting any ideas. She stated emphatically after the win that she would be back at Wake Forest again next year to finish her degree and her eligibility.
Kupcho set herself up nicely in the first round with a course-record 7-under 65 at Karsten Creek. Rounds of 74-70 followed, and she entered the final round tied at 7 under with Alabama junior Cheyenne Knight.
Things almost got out of hand when she went 4 over from Nos. 5-7.
“The rest of the girls are going to hit a rough patch like you did, just keep going,” Kupcho said of Potter’s words of wisdom in that stretch.
They worked, because Kupcho made five birdies on the back nine for a final-round 71. She finished two shots ahead of runners-up Andrea Lee of Stanford and Bianca Pagdanganan of Arizona.
Put aside the near-miss at last year’s national championship, and Kupcho has still had to deal with some adversity. She fell off a golf cart in a freak accident last season and suffered a concussion, then watched teammates succumb to injury and Wake Forest struggle to field a team at the end of the year.
“It’s just exciting to get here after everything I’ve been through with the concussion and struggles with the team and now getting to be here with my team and having them celebrate with me after I made the putt,” she said.
The only demon in Kupcho’s mind this week was her team’s mascot.
ABOUT THE NCAA Division I Women's Championship
24 teams and 12 individuals not on a qualifying
team make up the field for the championship of
Division I women's golf.
After 72 holes of stroke play, the individual
champion is crowned, and the low 8 teams advance
match play to determine the team champion.
View Complete Tournament Information