A dozen highlights from the competitive golf season in Colorado and for Coloradans in 2021
By Gary Baines – 11/9/2021
The elite-level competitive golf season in Colorado — think state championships, USGA qualifiers, college tournaments, etc. — largely concluded as of the end of October.
As usual, there was no lack of highlights, memorable moments and amazing feats in 2021. With that in mind, we picked a dozen such happenings, including not only events that took place in Colorado, but things Coloradans accomplished out of state. And since a similar-themed story on Colorado highlights of the junior golf season recently appeared on ColoradoGolf.org, we won’t repeat those here.
And away we go — in no particular order:
— CSU’s AJ Ott Notches Two Individual College Victories in Five Days: AJ Ott, a former CGA Player of the Year, was looking for his first individual college victory at the beginning of February, going into his final semester of competition at Colorado State. But he rectified that in a big way with wins at The Prestige Individual Invitational and the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate, with both victories coming in the course of five days, and both in the southern California desert.
— A Sweep of CGA Senior Majors by 66-Year-Old Robert Polk: Though records on the matter aren’t definitive, prior to this year it’s believed that the oldest player to win a CGA senior major was 65 years old. But Robert Polk of Colorado Golf Club not only set a new standard in that regard, but did it twice. Polk swept the CGA senior majors — the Senior Match Play and the Senior Amateur — for the second time in his career, having previously managed the feat in 2009. This time, though, he did it as a 66-year-old. With Steve Ivan finishing second in both events, Polk and Ivan have gone 1-2 in the last four CGA senior majors. Meanwhile, Ivan extended his streak of consecutive senior majors in which he’s never finished worse than runner-up — to nine. In order, he’s placed first-second-second-second-second-first-first-second-second.
— Jennifer Kupcho Shines in Her First Solheim Cup: Jennifer Kupcho, who was born in Littleton and spent her school years in Westminster, became the first golfer who grew up in Colorado to compete in the Solheim Cup, women’s golf equivalent of the Ryder Cup. And though the U.S. lost to Europe in the biennial event, Kupcho was one of just three Americans to finish the competition with a winning record, going 2-1-1. Earlier in the year, with her third career runner-up finish on the LPGA curcuit, Kupcho surpassed $1 million in career LPGA earnings. Former University of Colorado golfer Jennifer Coleman placed a career-best third in the same event, the LPGA Drive On Championship.
— Jake Staiano Makes Major Strides: It was a memorable second half of the year for Jake Staiano of Englewood, the 2017 CGA Player of the Year. He tied for second place with fellow Coloradan Derek Fribbs in the CoBank Colorado Open. Roughly a month later, he became the first Coloradan since 2016 to win the Grand Junction-based Sinclair Rocky Mountain Open. Then he negotiated his way through Korn Ferry Tour Q-school, finishing 73rd in the finals on Monday, which earns him conditional status on the KFT in 2022. Also at the Q-school finals, former University of Colorado golfer Jeremy Paul gained exempt status a day after his twin brother Yannik landed his European Tour card.
— A Couple More CGA Titles for Kristine Franklin, Including One at ‘Home’: The year 2021 proved another unforgettable season for Kristine Franklin. In late June, she won the CGA Women’s Mid-Amateur Stroke Play by a whopping 15 shots. And then in mid-August, Franklin not only captured the title at the CGA Women’s Senior Stroke Play for the third time, but this one came at her home club, The Ranch Country Club, where she also lives.
— Liselotte Neumann Makes Run at Senior Major Title: Liselotte Neumann, winner of the 1988 U.S. Women’s Open, is now a part-time resident of Colorado, living in the Aspen area. And this year, she threatened to pull off a major upset at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. But after an eagle on the first hole of the final round put her within a stroke of the lead, fellow Swede — and World Golf Hall of Famer — Annika Sorenstam pulled away for an eight-stroke victory in her first appearance in the event. But Neumann finished runner-up in the world’s premier event in women’s senior golf.
— Age No Issue for Tag Ridings at Korn Ferry’s Colorado Stop: Tag Ridings struck a blow for the slightly older set as he prevailed in a playoff at the TPC Colorado Championship at Heron Lakes in Berthoud over the summer. That made the 46-year-old the oldest winner on the Korn Ferry Tour in the 2020-21 season, which dates back to Jan. 1, 2020. It was Ridings’ second career KFT title, but his first in 19 years.
— A June to Remember for Leigha Devine: June treated Leigha Devine of Ptarmigan Country Club oh so nicely this year. The Rutgers University golfer not only swept the CGA women’s majors — the Match Play (following a 38-hole final) and Stroke Play — in that month, but competed in arguably the top women’s golf tournament in the world, the U.S. Women’s Open. Devine’s accomplishment marked the 17th time a single-season sweep of CGA women’s majors has occurred, but just the fourth since 1990, as Devine joined Kim Eaton (2004), current LPGA standout Jennifer Kupcho (2016) and Mary Weinstein (2019).
— Anna Zanusso One of the Best in Women’s College Golf: Italian Anna Zanusso added to the proud 21st-century history of the University of Denver women’s golf team by finishing ninth individually in the NCAA national championships. It marked the second-best individual showing ever in the event by a DU woman, surpassed only by the fifth-place showing by Stephanie Sherlock in 2008.
— Matilda Castren Parlays Colorado Success Into Unforgettable Year: Normally, a Colorado-based U.S. Women’s Open qualifier in which a couple of Europeans earned the national berths might not make this kind of list, but in this case it does because of what followed the qualifier at The Ranch Country Club. Matilda Castren of Finland went on to finish 30th in the U.S. Women’s Open, but it’s what she did the next week which makes the difference. That’s when she claimed the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship title, becoming the first Finnish winner on the LPGA Tour. Three weeks after that, she added a runner-up finish in the Volunteers of America Classic. And in early September, she scored the Cup-clinching point for the Europeans in their victory over the U.S. in the Solheim Cup.
— Micah Rudosky Hitting His Stride In a Big Way: Micah Rudosky of Conquistador Golf Course became the seventh senior golfer in the last nine years to win the Colorado PGA Professional Championship. Rudosky captured the title for the second time — 20 years after victory No. 1. Not only that, but he also won another major Colorado PGA event, the Senior PGA Professional Championship. He became just the second player ever to sweep the titles for the Colorado Senior PGA Professional Championship and the CPGA Professional Championship in the same calendar year, joining Doug Rohrbaugh (2013). In the fall, Rudosky posted his second straight top-20 finish at national Senior PGA Professional Championship to qualify for 2022 Senior PGA Championship.
— More Success for Becca Huffer at Green Valley Ranch: Coloradan Becca Huffer continued her amazing string of performances at the CoBank Colorado Women’s Open by placing second to Savannah Vilaubi in the spring. Huffer has now won the CWO twice (2013 and ’19) and been runner-up three times (2008, ’12 and ’21).