Jennifer Kupcho Finishes Rookie Season

Kupcho celebrates her birdie putt on the 18th green at the Augusta National Women's Amateur. (photo courtesy of Augusta National)
Kupcho celebrates her birdie putt on the 18th green at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. (photo courtesy of Augusta National)

The Augusta champion also earns Hale Irwin Medal

Jennifer Kupcho’s rookie season on the LPGA Tour is now history, and so is the inaugural Hale Irwin Medal and Dinner.

Taking place last weekend in Florida, her final event in the former—the CME Group Tour Championship—justifiably precluded her Saturday-night attendance at the latter at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. It was moving day, after all, and a 3-under 69 on the tough Greg Norman design at Tiburón Golf Club had nudged Kupcho up the leaderboard.

If anyone would understand her absence, it would be the man presenting the two medals bearing his name: Hale Irwin, Colorado’s greatest golfer, with 21 PGA TOUR wins, three U.S. Open Championships and 45 Champions Tour titles (including seven senior majors). The medals honor Kupcho and Dale Douglass as Colorado natives for their playing accomplishments on the national stage.

Hale Irwin and Ed Mate
Hale Irwin (left) and CGA Executive Director Ed Mate at April’s announcement of the Hale Irwin Medal.

Kupcho would go on to finish 2-under in the CME, good enough for 38th place and $23,309. That put her final total for the year at $525,432, 39th on the tour. Those are extremely impressive numbers considering she missed the first 12 events on the LPGA Tour schedule by opting to forgo turning professional until she graduated from Wake Forest University.

For perspective, only two players with fewer starts than Kupcho’s 19—veterans Inbee Park (17) and Jessica Korda (18)—earned more than the Westminster native.

“I’m looking forward to the end of the tournament,” Kupcho told the Associated Press prior to the season-ending CME, for which only the top 60 LPGA players qualified. “I’m excited to play in it. It was my goal after I made it into the Asia events [in China, Korea, Taipei and Japan], to get into the CME. But I’m definitely tired.”

A “Chip on Her Shoulder”

Jennifer Kupcho does an interview at the LPGA's Evian Championship in France.
Kupcho at the LPGA’s Evian Championship, where she finished second.

The 22-year-old Kupcho, whose brother Steven accepted the Hale Irwin Medal on her behalf, didn’t appear tired in a taped speech that aired during Saturday’s medals ceremony.

After a video chronicling her stellar accomplishments over the past few years, the videotaped Kupcho thanked her parents, The Ranch Country Club, golf instructor Ed Oldham and “Hale Irwin for inspiring me and setting the bar so high and giving all junior golfers such a great Colorado role model.”

Saying that the award meant the world to her because it “represents two things that are very important to me—golf and Colorado,” Kupcho admitted, “I’ve always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder to show that great golfers, not just skiers, can come from the state of Colorado. I look forward to being a champion for the state and to aspire toward the great example that Mr. Irwin and Mr. Douglass set.”

All Hail Hale, Dale and Jennifer

Dale Douglass won the 1986 U.S. Senior Open at Scioto by one shot over Gary Player
Dale Douglass won the 1986 U.S. Senior Open at Scioto by one shot over Gary Player.

Douglass, who grew up in Fort Morgan and graduated from the University of Colorado nine years before Irwin did, won three PGA TOUR events and 11 PGA TOUR Champions tournaments, including the 1986 U.S. Senior Open. He mentored Irwin when his fellow Buff joined the TOUR in 1968, and on Saturday night Irwin repeatedly expressed his enduring gratitude to Douglass and his late wife, Joyce, for their support.

More than six decades younger than the 83-year-old Douglass, Kupcho took the golf world by storm before graduating from Wake Forest University in June. She won the 2018 NCAA Individual Championship, joining Irwin as the only Coloradan to accomplish that feat. She played on the winning USA teams in the Curtis Cup, Palmer Cup and Women’s World Amateur Team Championship and spent 34 weeks as the top-ranked amateur player in the world.

And in April, she rode a spectacular performance on the back nine to capture the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, becoming a national celebrity in the process, drawing raves from Jack Nicklaus (“She should be playing the Masters,” he enthused in her tribute video) and entering the same pantheon as immortals Hale Irwin and Dale Douglass.

Staged by the Colorado Golf Foundation, the Hale Irwin Medal and Dinner drew 550 people. The foundation closed the evening by donating a check for $25,000 to the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado.

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