Ken Kinkopf wins Golfweek Challenge Cup
of Jupiter, Fla., held off a late charge from Iowa’s Gene Elliott
to secure individual honors at the Golfweek Challenge Cup in a one-hole playoff held at the New Nicklaus course in Kissimmee, Fla.
Kinkopf started the day in the lead, one shot ahead of Michael Hughett
and two shots clear of Elliott. Kinkopf, Hughett, Elliott, and Mike Lohner
played as a foursome in both the second and third rounds. The four men were separated by just two shots at the start of the final round.
It appeared Kinkopf had things under control with nine holes remaining after a 35 on the front. Hughett and Lohner struggled on the front nine, shooting 38 and 37, respectively. However, Elliott hung around, but he needed a strong finish to close a three-shot gap.
Elliott certainly dialed up a strong finish, firing a 3-under 33, including birdies on the final three holes. It was enough to catch Kinkopf. To Kinkopf’s credit, he bounced back from a bogey on the par 3 16th with two birdies of his own on 17 and 18.
“I didn’t know where I stood until I was standing on the eighteenth fairway about to hit my second shot,” Kinkopf said.
He was tied with Elliott, the best senior golfer on the planet right now.
Elliott had laid up to about 110 yards, so Kinkopf decided to try and reach the green in two from 239 yards. Trouble on the left side forced Kinkopf to miss his shot well right. Elliott wedged to six feet for birdie, while Kinkopf had an awkward 72-yard shot.
“Gene had almost holed his third shot out, and I thought he was only a foot or two from the hole.” Kinkopf said. “It turned out he wasn’t, but I thought I needed to hit my shot real close.”
His 62-degree wedge didn’t let him down.
“My wife could have kicked it in. I could have kicked it in,” Kinkopf joked. “But I still figured Gene was going to make his 6-footer. He’s such a great player.”
He did indeed make his putt and force a playoff. Elliott struggled on the first playoff hole, driving into a waste bunker on his way to a bogey. Kinkopf made a safe par, lagging a 30-foot putt to about three feet.
“It was about three feet more than I wanted,” Kinkopf said. “I focused and rolled it right into the center of the hole.”
It’s been a long time coming for Kinkopf, who had enjoyed a lot of success before COVID interrupted his hot streak; he had won seven times in 12 months and rocketed up the WAGR rankings.
“I lost my feel for the game. I had some back issues,” then he mentioned another big change in his life. “I bought a boat. That’s probably the biggest thing. I don’t think it helped my golf game.”
He fell in love with being out on the water and fishing. He bought the boat in December 2020, and in the last year he believes he has spent a total 440 hours on the boat. That’s more than 18 days!
“I can’t tell you how happy and how proud I am,” Kinkopf said. “It’s rewarding to break through and win. You need some luck and to make some putts when it matters. Having a supportive family, especially my wife Carole, makes a huge difference, too.”
Kinkopf has a new lease on his golfing life; he was planning on limiting his competitive golf this winter, but now that he’s found the winner’s circle he’s looking forward to being in the mix with the best senior golfers again.
“I admire guys like Gene, and Doug (Hanzel)
, and Rusty (Strawn)
for how consistent they are.”
Kinkopf hopes to return to his 2019 form and enjoy a run of success in 2022.
In the super senior division, Brian Johnston
of Peachtree Corners, GA, won with a score of 5 over, edging out Steve Humphrey
by a shot. Johnston carded rounds of 72-77-72.
A battle of North Carolina players in the legends division ended with Pete Allen
beating Ken Eichele
. It took birdies on the 15th and 18th holes for Allen to secure the win.
won the super legends in a runaway, shooting rounds of 71-74-79 for a nine-shot victory.
The Challenge Cup is both an individual and team event. So while Kinkopf was playing for his own victory, he was also part of the winning team captained by Craig Hurlbert
The teams are formed through nine captains’ picks and a blind draw. Captains Gene Elliott and Billy Mitchell
(stepping in for injured Craig Hurlbert) each chose nine players, and the rest of the field, in all four divisions, is split via a blind draw.
The result was rather lop-sided, as Team Hurlbert won with a total score of 3 over, beating Team Elliott by 19 shots.