Kupcho Shines in Solheim Debut

Jennifer Kupcho of the USA hugs Leona Maguire of Europe hug after their Solheim Cup singles match which was won by Maguire.

Despite loss on Monday, the “MVP” is a Bright Spot.

The first time the U.S. Solheim Cup team ever lost to Europeans on this side of the Atlantic came in 2013 at Colorado Golf Club in Parker. Jennifer Kupcho, then a junior at Westminster’s Jefferson Academy, watched as three of the four rookies on that team—Lexi Thompson, Lizette Salas and Jessica Korda—amassed a total of 2.5 points (out of a possible 10) during the 18-10 drubbing.

In the just-completed 2021 version of the event at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio—a second American defeat on home turf—a rookie named Jennifer Kupcho alone accounted for 2.5 points. Paired with Salas for wins in the Sunday foursomes (versus Anna Nordqvist/Matilda Castren) and Saturday fourball (over Carlota Ciganda/Sophia Popov), Colorado’s first homegrown Solheim player earned her playing partner’s praise as “the MVP of Team USA” after the Sunday fourball match versus Mel Reid and Leona Maguire.

Lizette Salas and Jennifer Kupcho.

They halved the match, with Kupcho staging a back-nine charge highlighted by a chip-in birdie on the 17th that put the U.S. 1-up.  It took Reid hitting the approach shot of her life on 18 to set up a match-halving birdie.

“She certainly doesn’t play like a rookie,” Salas said about Kupcho.

Meanwhile, Thompson and Korda combined for the same 2.5 point total. Korda’s lone point came in a 3 & 1 victory over Charley Hull in the penultimate Monday singles match—long after Finnish rookie Matilda Castren’s 1-up victory over Salas had clinched the 15-13 win for the Euros.

Like Salas, Kupcho lost her Monday singles match, a 5 & 4 shellacking by Maguire, a fellow Solheim newbie and former college rival, who went undefeated (4-0-1) in her Solheim debut. The first Solheim Cup player ever to represent Ireland bolted out of the gate, going 4 up by the seventh hole, thanks to three birdies and an eagle.

“Just wanted to put pressure on Jen from the get-go,” Maguire said. “She’s a phenomenal player. We’ve played many times before, and I knew I’d have to have my A game today, and luckily there was still some energy left in my legs and I was able to get it done.”
The loss stung, but the 24-year-old Westminster native’s overall performance left no doubt as to her place among the best players in the world.

In particular, the 2020 CoBank Colorado Women’s Open champion produced some superb shots in the Sunday fourball, holing lengthy birdie putts and chipping in for a crucial birdie at the 17th against Maguire and Reid to go 1-up before Reid hit the approach shot of her life on 18 to set up a match-halving birdie.

This marked the second consecutive Solheim Cup win for the Europeans and captain Catriona Matthew. The U.S. leads the series 10 to 7.

On to Whistling Straits

Lucky for golf fans, in just two weeks, the best male players from the U.S. and Europe will engage in the identical type of team competition at the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. As with the Solheim Cup, U.S. Captain Steve Stricker’s squad will attempt to wrest the trophy from Pádraig Harrington’s team.

With this morning’s announcement of the six captain’s picks, the U.S. will be comprised of Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau, Harris English, Daniel Berger, Xander Schauffele and Scottie Scheffler.

Europe will counter with PGA of America Player of the Year Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Paul Casey, Viktor Hovland, Rory McIlroy, Matt Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood, Shane Lowry and three captain’s picks to be made after this weekend’s European Tour BMW PGA Championship. Most suspect Ryder Cup stalwarts Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia will fill two of the spots, with the final one determined by who plays well at Wentworth.

In the meantime, the next Solheim Cup will take place in Spain in 2023 and at a U.S. location to be announced in 2024.

2021 Solheim Cup Champions, Team Europe. Photo Courtesy of Twitter.

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