Eyes on the Prize

70-yard hole-out eagle helps recent Epson Tour winner Juliana Hung match Jennifer Kupcho’s 36-hole scoring record at Inspirato Colorado Women’s Open; $100,000 first prize at stake on Friday

By Gary Baines – 5/30/2024

DENVER — Juliana Hung is no stranger to posting low scores in tournament golf.

It was just a month ago that the 22-year-old from Taiwan not only won the Epson Tour’s IOA Championship, but she set the all-time Epson scoring record — by two strokes. She carded rounds of 64-64-67 for a 21-under-par total.

This week, though she’s playing in the Inspirato Colorado Women’s Open for the first time, Hung is back at it. She shot a 7-under-par 65 at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club, which gave her a 12-under total for two days. That matches the 36-hole scoring record for the CWO, which was first played in 1995. Colorado native and now three-time LPGA Tour winner Jennifer Kupcho also went 67-65 at GVR en route to posting her first professional victory at the 2020 CWO. That year, Kupcho finished three rounds at a tournament-record 16 under.

“This is my first year on Epson; I’ve played seven events,” Hung said. “I know how competitive it is out there. If you’re not shooting a low score, you’re not making the cut basically. You can’t survive without playing well. So that’s kind of my mindset playing every tournament now.

“(Today) I hit a lot of great shots. I was comfortable out there and I know I can play well, which is a good combination. Hopefully I can maintain my good form.”

On Thursday — “moving day” for the CWO — Hung and LPGA Tour veteran Dana (Finkelstein) Fall of Mesa, Ariz., did indeed move, largely separating themselves from the rest of the field. Fall, who’s played in more than 100 events on the LPGA Tour — though she’s competed mainly on the Epson circuit so far this year — matched Hung’s Thursday 65 and goes into Friday’s final round trailing by one.

Next best through 36 holes is Kaitlin Milligan of Norman, Okla., who finished runner-up in an Epson Tour event earlier this month. Milligan also had a 65 on Thursday, but trails Hung by seven. After that, no one is closer to the lead than nine strokes going into Friday.

The winner on Friday will earn a cool $100,000, which catches the attention of almost anyone in the CWO field. 

“I think (Fall’s LPGA experience) might help because some people might be thinking about that big check,” Fall said. “It is a big check and it would mean the world to me to win. But on LPGA I’m playing for more money than this, so I feel comfortable playing for big money; that’s what I like to do. So we’ll see what happens.”

Said Hung regarding the money on the line: “Big money helps, but it’s not my main goal. My main goal this year is to learn from every event and hopefully make it to the LPGA next year.”

Colorado Golf Hall of Famer — and three-time USGA national champion — Jill McGill was among the 42 players who survived the 36-hole cut.

Hung, who still lives in Taiwan, made an eagle for the second straight day to spark her round. On Thursday, that involved holing out from 70 yards on the par-4 fourth hole — her 13th of the day. Then she made 4-foot birdie putts on each of the last two holes. For the day, she carded an eagle, seven birdies and two bogeys. And that was despite having some issues with her putting.

“It’s a really tough course,” Hung said of GVR. “When I played the practice rounds, I was struggling a bit with knowing how I was going to hit my tee shots and stuff. I feel like there’s a lot of ways you can play this golf course. The aggressive line and the safe line are completely two different ways of playing it. I’m just happy that my long game is pretty good this week so I can take the more aggressive line, which is rewarding me on par-5s.”

Despite the fact that Hung has very rarely played at altitude like Denver features, she apparently has had little problem adjusting quickly to how far the ball flies at 5,000-plus feet.

“People have warned me coming in here, ‘You’re going to hit it really far so you have to be careful on your yardages and stuff,’” noted Hung, who turned pro at age 17. “I redid all my yardages — I (figured) a new yardage for all of my clubs. That’s been helpful.”

With her victory last month, Hung currently ranks fifth on the 2024 Epson Tour points list. The top 10 on that list at season’s end will earn 2025 LPGA Tour cards.

Fall, 31, has also been doing well on the Epson circuit in 2024, having placed third and sixth in her last two starts. She won an Epson Tour event in 2016.

On Thursday, Fall posted two runs of birdies — four straight (holes 11-14) as she started on the back nine, and three in a row starting on hole 4. 

“I think I’m in a good position,” said Fall, who placed seventh in the 2021 Colorado Women’s Open. “We’ll stick to our game plan and see what happens tomorrow. … My game is in a good spot.” 

Fall and Hung teed off Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, which proved to be very advantageous as the wind was problematic on Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon.

Lauren Lehigh of Loveland rallied with a 70 on Thursday in her pro debut.

Notable: Emma Bryant of Aurora, the former 5A state high school individual champion and current University of Denver golfer who plays out of GVR, bounced back from a first-round 77 with a bogey-free 3-under-par 69 on Thursday. Bryant’s 2-over-par total leaves her one stroke behind the current low amateur, Alenka Navarro of Mexico (75-70), a Kansas State golfer. Tied for second with Bryant is her DU teammate Clara Gestsdottir of Iceland (74-72). Former two-time 5A state high school champ Katelyn Lehigh of Loveland (76-71) is fourth among amateurs. … The top Coloradan on the scoreboard overall is Kelli McKandless of Parker, a coach at First Tee Green Valley Ranch. At 1 over par (69-76), she stands in 13th place. … Barring the unforeseen, Loveland’s Lauren Lehigh (Katelyn’s older sister) will make a check in her professional debut. The quarterfinalist in the 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur and 2024 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball (the latter with Katelyn) rebounded from a first-round 76 to shoot a 2-under 70 on Thursday and easily make the 36-hole cut. The former University of New Mexico golfer shares 18th place. … Colorado Golf Hall of Famer — and three-time USGA national champion — Jill McGill made the cut on the number (75-74) and will tee it up for Friday’s final round. Gerina Mendoza, who’s represented the U.S. in three Solheim Cups and like McGill a former LPGA regular, missed the cut (78-76). … Among the biggest improvements from round 1 to round 2 was one made by Colorado State’s Kara Kaneshiro (82-68). Kaneshiro fell one stroke shy of making the cut. … Two-time CWO champ Becca Huffer of Monument struggled on Friday (76) but will be around for Friday’s final round at 4 over par overall. In all, the 42 individuals who stand at 5 over par or better made the championship cut. … The Oakwood Homes team (pro Dana Fall of Mesa, Ariz., and amateur Jay Small of Parker) sits at 19 under par and leads the pro-am competition by three strokes. 

For all the scores from the Colorado Women’s Open, CLICK HERE.

About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for since 2009. The University of Colorado Evans Scholar alum was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates