Big Week awaits

Defending a title as a pro for the first time, Colorado native Jennifer Kupcho began her major week with her favorite food at Chevron Championship champions dinner

By Gary Baines – 4/19/2023

Jennifer Kupcho is doing something this week that she’s never experienced before in her illustrious golf career. 

For the first time as a pro, she’s defending her title. It’s also for the first time in an LPGA event — as well as for the first time in a major.

That’s checking off a lot of boxes.

The Jefferson Academy graduate has won four times as a pro. She didn’t compete in the Inspirato Colorado Women’s Open a year after winning the 2020 title at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club. But in the next few months, it will become almost commonplace for Kupcho to defend titles. She’s doing so starting Thursday at the first major of the 2023 LPGA Tour season, the Chevron Championship, and is also expected to defend at the Meijer LPGA Classic (June 15-18) and the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational (July 19-22).

But the Chevron is the really big one of the three, being a major championship.

Although it is nowhere near as publicized as the champions dinner at the Masters, the Chevron Championship holds a similar event — and has since 1986. And, also like at the Masters, the defending champion helps set the menu.

Sometimes the food for the event may be something unusual or a bit exotic, but Kupcho certainly didn’t go that route for her main course Monday night at The Woodlands in Texas.

Kupcho went with her favorite food: macaroni and cheese — albeit this time cooked by renowned chef, restauranteur and cookbook author Thomas Keller.

“It was absolutely awesome,” Kupcho said on Tuesday. “Thomas Keller did a great job (with) great food. It was absolutely amazing. I think just the way that Chevron puts that on for us, it’s really special for all the champions, and it’s definitely something to look forward to every year.”

Truth be known, Kupcho said her favorite mac and cheese comes from a Kraft box. 

“I would say most of the time fancy mac and cheese is a little bit too rich for me, but (Keller) did an amazing job,” she said. “It was not too rich. It was obviously not Kraft mac and cheese, but it was amazing. It was really good.”

Even though Kupcho won the Chevron Championship at Mission Hills in southern California — and that the tournament will now be held at Carlton Woods in the Houston area — her memories from a year ago won’t soon go away.

“One of the biggest things at Mission Hills was everybody was calling my name as well as calling ‘Go, Colorado,’” said Kupcho, a native of Littleton who lived most of her pre-adult life in Westminster. “That’s just really special to me, and I think that’s kind of continued throughout last year and through this year.

“… I have a really good support system, and that was one of the biggest things at Mission Hills: everybody was calling my name as well as calling “Go, Colorado.” That’s just really special to me.”

Indeed, Kupcho continues to garner considerable support from Colorado, even though she now lives in Mesa, Ariz. For instance, just in the last couple of months, she’s been honored as the Sportswoman of the Year (regardless of sport) by the Sportswomen of Colorado, and as a Golf Person of the Year — for the third time — by the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame.

For her first pro title defense, Kupcho arrived in Houston on Saturday as she skipped last week’s LPGA Tour stop in Hawaii.

“Usually I play before the week of a major, and I took last week off and came here early, so I think that’s kind of helped with the transition of trying to figure out everything that I need to do before I can step foot on the golf course,” she said. “That’s probably the biggest change for me.”

Unlike last year, when Kupcho was struggling on the eve of the Chevron Championship and calling her coach, Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Ed Oldham, and working with her representative at Ping —  “I was in a bit of a panic last year, actually” — she has a different early-week mindset this week.

“I would say I’m a little bit more relaxed this year,” Kupcho said. “I feel like I have my feet under me and ready to go.”

After scoring all of her first three LPGA victories in the course of just 15 weeks last year, Kupcho hasn’t contended for many titles since July. Her best finish since her last victory was a 16th-place showing in January at the Hilton Grand Vacation Tournament of Champions. But she’s been trending in the right direction in recent starts, placing 60th, 43rd, 34th and 25th.

And perhaps defending her title will be what it takes to get her back in the hunt.

“It’s definitely a little bit different coming to a new state and new course (for the tournament); a little bit different preparation,” she said. “But it’s awesome to kind of see my face everywhere (in promotional material). It’s really special.”

The Chevron Championship runs Thursday through Sunday. Golf Channel and NBC will televise the tournament, with Thursday and Friday’s action on Golf Channel from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. (MT). Kupcho will tee off at 12:10 p.m. (MT) on Thursday.

About the Author: Gary Baines owns and operates