Colorado native Jennifer Kupcho falls in a playoff to LPGA newcomer Rose Zhang, but records her first top-10 finish since July
By Gary Baines – 6/4/2023
Jennifer Kupcho did her best to end a bit of a personal slump that lasted close to 11 months — and to spoil the pro debut of former amateur sensation Rose Zhang. And while she came up just short of victory on Sunday, it was a big step in the right director for the Colorado native.
In her best LPGA Tour showing — and first top 10 — since winning for the third time in 2022 last July, Kupcho finished runner-up in a playoff at the Mizuho Americas Open in Jersey City, N.J.
The former Westminster resident posted scores of 71-70-69-69 to tie Zhang at the end of regulation at 9 under par. Her final round featured a hole-out eagle on No. 7 on Sunday.
When Zhang — like Kupcho an NCAA individual and Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion — missed an 8-foot par putt on the 72nd hole, the two were in a playoff. Both had to get up and down for par on the first extra hole — Zhang from 8 feet and Kupcho from 5 — to continue the proceedings.
The championship was decided on the second playoff hole as Kupcho’s approach shot on the par-4 — with an 8-iron — barely made the putting surface after Zhang’s hybrid rolled within 5 feet of the cup. Kupcho struck her birdie putt too hard — off the back of the green, in fact — then missed her par try, finishing with a bogey. And when Zhang two-putted for par from 5 feet, the title was hers.
Only one player prior to Zhang had won her pro debut on the LPGA Tour — Beverly Hanson in 1951.
While Kupcho fell short of notching her fourth LPGA victory, she took a big step in the right direction after enduring her top-10 drought.
“I’ve kind of struggled earlier this season, so to come back and play really well this week, it’s good to see,” Kupcho said. “I struggled at the end of last year and just mentally trying to get myself back into it and really believe that I can do it. I tried something different this week — not looking at leaderboards — and that seemed to help a lot.
“I came into the last few weeks just trying to make cuts and that’s not going to get you anywhere. So every time I thought that out there on the course, I just said, ‘You’re going to win this tournament. You’re not going to just make the cut.’ Here I am, so it’s exciting to see.”
Zhang earned $412,500 for her inaugural victory on the LPGA Tour, while Kupcho received $256,544.
“It’s hard for me to not think about (losing in the playoff), but on this type of grass, I’m always the best. We’re starting to hit in this type of grass going forward, so I’m excited to see where the season goes. It’s been a long trek. It was really hard last year and even the beginning of this year. Lots of rounds crying afterward, so to be here now, it’s a good feeling.”
Kupcho now has chalked up 15 top-10 finishes in her LPGA Tour career.
For all the scores from the Mizuho Americas Open, CLICK HERE.
Kupcho’s was one of several top-10 performances on major tours by players with strong Colorado ties on Sunday:
— Two former Air Force Academy golfers recorded top-6 finishes on Sunday at the Korn Ferry Tour’s UNC Health Championship in Raleigh, N.C.
Kyle Westmoreland, normally a regular on the PGA Tour this season, placed fifth at 11 under par, two strokes behind champion Jorge Fernandez Valdes. Westmoreland posted scores of 63-66-69-71.
Another former Falcon, Tom Whitney, ended up in sixth place at 10 under, after recording rounds of 65-68-68-69. It was Whitney’s fourth top-six showing in 2023 on the KFT.
For all the scores, CLICK HERE.
— Former University of Colorado golfer Robyn Choi was in the mix for another title on the Epson Tour.
Choi tied for fourth on Sunday at the Champions Fore Change Invitational in New Bern, N.C. She went 68-69-68 for an 11-under-par 205 total, which left her six strokes behind champion Alena Sharp.
It was Choi’s first top-10 on the Epson circuit since September. In 2022, she recorded six top-10s.
For all the scores from Bern, 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 ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. He was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates ColoradoGolfJournal.com