The top dozen Colorado golf stories of 2022
By Gary Baines – 12/28/2022
Let the countdown continue.
It’s time for our second — and final — installment of the top stories in Colorado golf for 2022. The first — enumerating the 25th through 13th topics that made the grade — ran on Monday and can be FOUND HERE.
As with the first installment, this one will be divulged in reverse order, for suspense sake.
So here we go with the top dozen stories of the year, plus honorable-mention selections:
12. Twenty three months after the U.S. Girls’ Junior — in this case scheduled for Eisenhower Golf Course at the Air Force Academy — was canceled for the first time in its history (due to Covid-19 safety concerns in 2020), the USGA announced that the 2023 championship will come to the site just north of Colorado Springs. It will be the first USGA championship to be held at a course affiliated with a military academy. The CGA will serve as a “host group” for the event, partnering with the USGA in many respects, most notably fundraising, just as the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado had been scheduled to do in 2020. According to CGA executive director Ed Mate, the CGA is going to be the responsible party for the all the administration leading up to the tournament. Once the competition starts, it will be handed over to the USGA, the Eisenhower staff and the volunteers. The U.S. Girls’ Junior has been held three times in Colorado — in 1957 at Lakewood Country Club, 1965 at Hiwan Golf Club in Evergreen and in 1982 at Greeley Country Club. READ MORE Meanwhile, in the second USGA championship that will be held in Colorado in 2023 — the U.S. Amateur that Cherry Hills Country Club primarily will host — Colorado Golf Club will serve as second stroke-play course. READ MORE
11. RainDance National, a course that features an array of picturesque arroyos winding through the layout, opened in Windsor after much anticipation. With aspirations of hosting big-time championships in the future, RainDance became the longest course in North America, with a possibility of 8,463 yards from the tips. PGA Tour veteran Fred Funk designed the course, with Harrison Minchew serving as the architect. The facility has plenty of resort amenities planned or already in place. READ MORE (Dec. 30 Update: SI.com ended up giving RainDance National a silver medal for best public courses that opened in 2022.) Also on the new Colorado courses front, Mike Keiser’s sons, Michael and Chris, have a project in the works in Colorado, as Beyond the Contour and Global Golf Post hinted at earlier this year. The future home of possibly multiple courses is located on the plains northeast of Denver and west of Fort Morgan. Of course, Mike Keiser founded and developed Bandon Dunes in Oregon and purchased the land for Sand Valley in Wisconsin, where his sons have spearheaded the development — along with at other revered layouts.
10. For the first time, A junior golfer from Colorado, Sophia Capua of Aurora, won one of the disciplines in the nationally televised Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals held at Augusta National the weekend before the Masters. Capua prevailed in the chip portion for girls 14-15. Fellow Coloradans Matai Naqica and Anthony Chen narrowly missed victories in putting. READ MORE
9. After one announced hire decided at the last minute not to take the job, Steven Bartkowski became just the sixth executive director in Colorado PGA history. Barkowski previously served as the E.D./CEO at the Western New York PGA Section. The CPGA executive directors that preceded Bartkowski were Jerry King, Myran Craig, Scott Wellington, Darrell Bock and Eddie Ainsworth. READ MORE
8. After going winless in CGA championships since 2018, Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Kim Eaton notched her 26th career victory in CGA/CWGA women’s events, thus establishing an outright record for such tournaments. Eaton had previously been tied for the top spot on that list with fellow Hall of Famer Carol Flenniken. Eaton went on to win three times overall in CGA championships in 2022 — the Women’s Senior Match Play, Brassie (with Molly Steffes) and Senior Stroke Play. That leaves her at 28 victories overall in CGA events, including a record-tying six in the Senior Stroke Play and five in the Senior Match Play. Eaton swept the CGA women’s senior majors in a calendar year for the fourth time. She now owns nearly 50 combined state titles in Colorado, Arizona and California. READ MORE
7. With a new title sponsor on board — Denver-based Inspirato — first prize for the Colorado Women’s Open is increased from $50,000 to $100,000, matching the amount for the Colorado Open. Meanwhile, the overall purse for the CWO jumped from $150,000 to $250,000. The Women’s Open winner, which received $11,000 in 2016, earned more than nine times that total in 2022. READ MORE The first $100,000 winner at the CWO was former LPGA Tour player Clariss Guce. READ MORE
6. A new era in Colorado junior golf started taking shape in 2022 following the dissolution of the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado, which was formally launched in early 2016. The CGA and the Colorado PGA announced they were going to “serve junior golfers independently beginning in 2022.” One of the way things changed this year was a tweaking of the Colorado junior majors. Specifically, the CGA ran the CGA State Junior Championship (a hybrid of stroke-play and match-play championships that have been held for decades), while the Colorado PGA oversaw three majors: the Colorado Junior PGA Championship, the Aurora Junior Championship and the Colorado PGA Junior Invitational.
5. Denver native and Cherry Creek High School graduate Jill McGill scored an improbable win in her first U.S. Senior Women’s Open, overcoming the likes of World Golf Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam, Juli Inkster and Laura Davies. It marked McGill’s third different USGA championship victory, following the Colorado Golf Hall of Famer’s wins in the 1993 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 1994 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. Others who have won three different USGA championships in their careers: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Joanne Carner and Carol Semple Thompson. In addition, McGill became the first American to win the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, which has been contested four times. McGill, who has the distinction of being the first individual champion (1990) at a sanctioned girls state high school championship in Colorado, earned more than $2.3 million in a long LPGA Tour career, but never won a title there. READ MORE
4. Few male amateur players in recent history have had a year that matches or surpasses what Connor Jones of Westminster did in 2022. The Colorado State University golfer swept the CGA Match Play and Amateur titles and was low amateur (third overall) in the Inspirato Colorado Open — becoming just the second player since 1974 to accomplish that combined feat in a single calendar year. Jones also won three individual college titles — in the course of five tournaments, including a conference title — and finished second in a playoff at the Trans-Miss, an Elite Amateur Golf Series event that Denver Country Club hosted. His performance at the Colorado Open set a scoring record for an amateur at the event — by four strokes. Speaking of scoring records, his 24-under-par total is believed to be the best total ever at the CGA Amateur. Is it any wonder why Jones was named the CGA Les Fowler Player of the Year? READ MORE
3. Few calendar years in recent memory have produced the deaths of such nationally prominent people with major Colorado ties as 2022 did. Specifically, in the course of less than four months, passing away were Colorado Sports Hall of Famers Dale Douglass and Dow Finsterwald, along with longtime Colorado Springs resident Shirley Englehorn, a formidable LPGA Tour player back in the day. Douglass, winner of three PGA Tour events and 11 more events on PGA Tour Champions (including a U.S. Senior Open), died in July at age 86. READ MORE Englehorn, who counted an LPGA Championship among her 11 LPGA victories and who was a longtime director of instruction at Garden of the Gods Resort, passed away in October at age 81. READ MORE And Finsterwald, a longtime PGA director of golf at The Broadmoor whose 12 PGA Tour victories included a PGA Championship, died in November at 93. READ MORE
2. The deal had been in the works for quite some time, but the big news was formally announced in May. A BMW Championship — a FedExCup Playoff event on the PGA Tour — will be returning to Colorado. Specifically, Castle Pines Golf Club, home of the PGA Tour’s International from 1986 through 2006, will be the site of the 2024 BMW Championship. It will be the first PGA Tour event held in the Centennial State since the same event was conducted at Cherry Hills Country Club in 2014. Proceeds from the BMW Championship benefit the Evans Scholarship for caddies, including those in the E.S. house at the University of Colorado. Former CU Evans Scholars George and Duffy Solich, now both members at Castle Pines, will play prominent organizational roles at the event, where 50 of the world’s top players will tee it up. Jack Nicklaus, who designed the course at picturesque Castle Pines, has spent the last five years modernizing the layout to challenge the best golfers of the current generation. He’s made changes to nearly every hole, with the course maxing out at about 8,100 yards — or roughly the equivalent of 7,200-7,300 at sea level. READ MORE
1. Readers who have followed our stories of the year in Colorado golf over the last decade know that Jennifer Kupcho is no stranger to the top spots in the annual rundown. And this year certainly is no exception as the Colorado native slots in at the No. 1 spot. The Jefferson Academy graduate and three-time CGA Women’s Player of the Year went on to win titles at the NCAA championship finals and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur en route to becoming the top-ranked women’s amateur in the world. She wasted no time in landing a spot on the LPGA Tour — meanwhile earning her first pro victory at the 2020 Colorado Women’s Open — but went into this year looking for her initial LPGA win. Well, she not only overcame that obstacle, but she thoroughly demolished it.
Kupcho not only won three times — tied for the most on the LPGA Tour in 2022 with Lydia Ko — but the first of those victories came in a women’s major, the Chevron Championship, where she made the final plunge into Poppie’s Pond as the event moves from the California desert to Houston area next year. READ MORE
Kupcho followed that up with two more wins in the following 3 1/2 months — both victories coming in Michigan. She claimed an individual title at the Meijer LPGA Classic and teamed up with Lizette Salas for the win at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational team event. Kupcho, 25, finished with almost $2 million in official LPGA earnings in 2022, good for seventh place overall. The former longtime Westminster resident, who got married in February, currently sits No. 13 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.
Honorable Mention Colorado Golf Stories of the Year (In No Particular Order)
— Kevin Breen, who received a bachelor’s degree in horticulture/turf science from Colorado State University, was elected the president of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s national board of directors.
— Colorado’s Korn Ferry Tour event landed a title sponsor and became The Ascendant at TPC Colorado, then Chinese golfers finished 1-2 in Berthoud, with Marty Dou capturing his third KFT title as former University of Colorado golfer Jeremy Paul made a run at the win in the final round.
— Coloradan Jessica Mason claimed the title in the prestigious Women’s Western Junior.
— Scott Vincent became the most prominent Colorado resident to compete in LIV Golf on a regular basis, with a best showing — out of eight starts — of 14th place in Chicago. Vincent, a native of Zimbabwe who married a Coloradan, finished first inthe International Series Order of Merit — an elevated group of Asian Tour events — landing an exemption into the 2023 LIV Golf League. Last February, Vincent, who represented Zimbabwe in last year’s Summer Olympics, won the International Series England, earning $360,000.
— Kathy Whitworth — who won the 1978 National Jewish Hospital Open at Green Gables Country Club in the Denver area, marking one of her record 88 LPGA Tour victories — passed away on Christmas Eve at age 83. Much more recently in Colorado, Whitworth captained a victorious U.S. team at the Ping Junior Solheim Cup that took place in 2013 at The Club at Inverness in Englewood.
— Hadley Ashton of Erie had another big year in the junior ranks, winning the 4A girls state high school title as a freshman and the AJGA Hale Irwin Colorado Junior, as well as another AJGA crown. She qualified for the 2023 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball (with Brynn Kort), earned a Future Famer award from the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame, and was named to the AJGA 12-15 All-Star team. In 2022, Ashton competed in both the U.S. Girls’ Junior and the U.S. Women’s Four-Ball.
— In 2022, organizers were busy collecting artifacts, planning and raising money for the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame museum, which will be re-established at the five-star Broadmoor resort, with a planned grand opening celebration tentatively set for April 14. Also in 2022, the Hall of Fame named Connor Jones, Jennifer Kupcho, Jill McGill, Matt Schalk and Yannik Paul Golf Persons of the Year, and Madeline Bante and Kyle Leydon Future Famers. 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the CGHOF.
— As a 52-year-old, Micah Rudosky of Cortez won his third Colorado PGA Professional Championship, marking the eighth time in the last 10 years that senior golfers have earned the title in the event.
— 2022 3A girls state high school champ Madeline Bante became the first Coloradan since 2015 to earn USGA-AJGA Presidents’ Leadership Award.
— Sherry Andonian-Smith of Centennial improved to 4-for-4 all time in qualifying for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. The instructor at Valley Country Club finished 17th in another senior women’s major, the Senior LPGA Championship in Kansas. She also played on the winning U.S. squad at the six-team Women’s PGA Cup, where she posted scores of 81-76-79.
— One of the most notable records pertaining to a player with strong Colorado connections — the once-seemingly-untouchable 45 PGA Tour Champions victories by Colorado Sports Hall of Famer Hale Irwin — may be in jeopardy of going by the wayside as Bernhard Langer notched Champions victory No. 44. Langer became the first person age 65 and older to win a Champions event.
— The Colorado State University men’s squad extended its remarkable streak of team titles at its Ram Masters Invitational — to eight — at Fort Collins Country Club.
— Lauren Lehigh of Loveland — and the University of New Mexico — advanced to the final eight at U.S. Women’s Amateur, but her quarterfinal opponent (who went on to claim the title) holed out twice from off the green en route to victory.
— After a run to the Sweet 16 at the U.S. Amateur, CU’s Justin Biwer fell to 2021 Trans-Miss champ Derek Hitchner. Meanwhile, Griffin Barela became first Coloradan to make match play at the U.S. Am since 2016.
— Davis Bryant of Aurora — and CSU — recorded a 12-under-par round of 60, which is believed to be the lowest, relative to par, in the long history of the CGA Amateur. Earlier in the year, Bryant won the Southwestern Amateur.
— Christian Newton retired from college coaching after a decade at the CSU men’s helm. Under his leadership, the Rams earned 13 team titles and 10 individual victories. Michael Wilson took over the Rams’ job and the team won its first three events of the season.
— Loveland’s Katelyn Lehigh claimed her second straight girls state high school individual title, becoming just the 10th girl to capture two or more championships in the event and joining older sister Lauren in that club. Katelyn went on to win the CGA State Junior Championship before going to Fresno State and notching a top 10 at the Rainbow Wahine Invitational.
— Tom Weiskopf, who passed away this year, designed or co-designed numerous Colorado courses: Catamount Ranch in Steamboat; Eagle Springs in Wolcott with Jay Morrish; Flying Horse in Colorado Springs; Frost Creek in Eagle; the Ridge at Castle Pines North; and Grandote Peaks in La Veta with Morrish. This year, Grandote Peaks began the process of reopening after eight years of being closed, with nine holes coming online in 2022.
— Former Coloradan Brandon Bingaman rallied to earn a berth in the PGA Championship for the first time.
— Justin Leonard, a 12-time PGA Tour winner who called Aspen home for seven years, moved to Florida with the intention of playing full-time on PGA Tour Champions — and cutting back on his TV analyst duties. Likewise focusing on the Champions circuit after recently turning 50 was Coloradan David Duval, winner 13 times on the PGA Tour during his 20s.
— The Marshall Fire burns up to the edges of Coal Creek Golf Course, including the golf shop, but stopped short of causing major damage to the course that suffered significant destruction in the 2013 flooding, closing for more than 21 months and being redesigned.
— The CSU-Pueblo men’s golf team won an NCAA Division II Regional team title at “home” — Pueblo Country Club. The Thunderwolves went on to advance to the DII national quarterfinals.
— Colorado resident and former CSU golfer Martin Laird surpassed $20 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour. Laird has won four times on Tour in his career.
— Coloradans Jim Knous, Sam Saunders, Jake Staiano and Zahkai Brown received conditional status on the Korn Ferry Ferry Tour for 2023.
— Former CGA Player of the Year — and Kent Denver graduate — Gunner Wiebe successfully negotiated all three stages of DP World Tour (formerly European Tour) Q-school, earning his card. Then, in his first two events of the season, he posts two top-20 finishes.
— Former CU golfer Sebastian Heisele earned the biggest payday of his career in his finale on the DP World Tour as he retired from the circuit to become a coach.
— As of Dec. 19, Jon Lindstrom of Denver was ranked No. 11 in the world among amateurs 55 and older. Lindstrom has been low amateur at the Inspirato Colorado Senior Open four of the last five years.
— In another big change for a Colorado-based golf talk show, “In the Fairway” moved from broadcast radio to a podcast.
— Former CSU golfer Bryce Hanstad made the semifinals of U.S. Mid-Amateur.
— In the 11 years since its founding, the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy has grown to eight chapters across Colorado, in addition to The Broadmoor Golf & Leadership Academy spinoff. The newest additions to the SCLA family are Fort Collins Country Club, Ptarmigan CC and Adobe Creek National. This year, 103 Solich caddies produced 2,754 loops.