Jennifer Kupcho (ANWA photo)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – The difference a year has made for Jennifer Kupcho is noticeable – very
noticeable. A player who once seemed shy in front of media had much to offer Wednesday as the first-round co-leader at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
To some extent, the spotlight that comes with winning an NCAA title, making a Curtis Cup team, playing an LPGA event and earning her LPGA tour status – which is effectively the highlight reel of Kupcho’s past year – forces your hand that way.
“It's a lot of social skills,” said Kupcho, a Wake Forest senior (and the No. 1 player in the Golfweek/AmateurGolf.com
rankings). “I'm definitely an introvert, so I'm going to have to become more out and just be able to talk to whoever comes up to me and carry on a conversation with them.”
Those are conversations that Kupcho and her father Mike, also her caddie this week, are beginning to have. It’s logical thinking from the perspective of a retired CFO, as Mike is. Longevity in professional golf starts with this question: What kind of business is golf?
From Mike’s perspective, Jennifer has been more cognizant of that as her time at Wake Forest comes to a close. By winning the NCAA Championship last spring, Jennifer scored a sponsor exemption into the LPGA’s Marathon Classic. She finished 16th.
Through the course of the week, she bottomed out her bag in an effort to give signed tournament mementos – balls, gloves – to as many fans as she could reach.
“You’re in entertainment,” as Mike has said to his daughter. “It’s an athletic event, but it’s entertainment. If nobody is here, there isn’t a golf tournament.”
Over the past 24 hours, Kupcho has eaten dinner next to Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley, hit the opening tee shot in front of a crowd of more than 100 and turned in a bogey-free 68 on a Champions Retreat layout that tripped up many players. She is the it-girl around here, and Wednesday’s on-course performance validated Tuesday’s seat at the head table beside Ridley.
The Dinner with the Chairmen was an event to which all 72 women were invited. Kupcho says some of it is a blur – particularly the topics of conversation with Ridley. Mike kept a watchful eye from down the table as his daughter handled it with grace.
“We talked about Augusta. I had gotten some tips from Hale Irwin, so he kind of talked a little bit about him. We talked about this course. I don't know, there was a lot,” she said, laughing.
Kupcho’s first drive of Wednesday morning was equally smooth, and perhaps equally blurry. Was she nervous? Even her dad was unsure.
“I don’t know,” he said, before joking. “I was.”
Jennifer didn’t make a bogey on Wednesday. The golf is perhaps the easy part of all this, but she acknowledges that her short game needs to keep improving before she is ready for the LPGA. Mike likes to keep track of consecutive holes without a three-putt. Jennifer is currently in an 83-hole stretch. She has also won her last two college events.
Jennifer will make the jump to professional golf in a matter of weeks. Her decision to defer the LPGA card she earned in October and remain amateur through the spring semester has been well-documented. (For the record, as Mike points out, Jennifer went 96 holes without a three-putt over the course of the eight-round LPGA Q-Series.)
For all that praise, however, it wasn’t a pretty start to her final season, as Mike remembers. Jennifer competed in Ireland at the World Amateur Team Championship, then the LPGA Q-Series. Her college results were lackluster.
It forced another hard question from Mike.
“Are you just going to slide through your senior year?”
Jennifer has won her last two starts at Wake Forest, and with one more win would tie the program record of 10 career victories.
While the ANWA was the platform that Jennifer needed to get to the next level, the other name on top of the leaderboard is at the other end of the spectrum.
Before Wednesday, 16-year-old Zoe Campos had never been perched on a media dais. She handled it beautifully. The UCLA commit got there with six birdies in her opening 68. As one of the final players invited into the field, Campos said she didn’t set huge expectations for herself coming in.
“I really just focused on making the cut,” she said. “It's not my, like, absolute goal to win this tournament. I just really want to get a good experience out of it.”
It’s all about perspective.
ABOUT THE Augusta National Women’s Amateur
54-hole stroke-play tournament that will include a
72 player international field. The field will include
winners of other recognized tournaments while also
utilizing the Women's World Amateur Golf Rankings.
The first two rounds will be played at
Retreat Golf Club before the field is cut to the low 30
scores for the final round at Augusta National.
The tournament will be played the week before
Masters, concluding on Saturday.
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