SHOP  
SEARCH
POST SCORES

Making a Difference

Record 20 junior golfers will participate in CGA’s Hale Irwin Player Program at CommonGround in 2020; Kupcho among HIPP’s accomplished alums

By Gary Baines – 2/20/2020

The list of prominent Hale Irwin Player Program “alums” reads like a who’s who of Colorado junior golf from the last eight years.

Among those who have spent at least a year in the CGA-sponsored program — which is designed to nurture the budding careers of promising, determined and passionate junior golfers in the state — are:

— Jennifer Kupcho, an NCAA Division I individual champion and winner of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, who’s now playing on the LPGA Tour.

— Hannah Wood, a CGA Women’s Stroke Play champion who qualified for a U.S. Women’s Open.

— Mary Weinstein, a three-time CGA Women’s Player of the Year who swept the CGA Women’s Stroke Play and Match Play titles in 2019. She’s in her final season competing for the University of Denver.

— Former CGA Les Fowler Player of the Year Jake Staiano.

— The only Coloradan to qualify twice for the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals, conducted and nationally-televised at Augusta National, site of the Masters — Caitlyn Chin. And the player who has posted the best-ever finish by a Coloradan in the DCP National Finals — Chunya “Bead” Boonta.

— And, in addition to the aforementioned, several of the most successful NCAA Division I players from Colorado in recent years (Coby Welch of Northern Colorado, Ross Macdonald and Spencer Painton of the University of Colorado), along with some promising DI underclassmen, among them Jack Castiglia of UNC and Lauren Lehigh of New Mexico.

In other words, the Hale Irwin Player Program has been doing its job, helping bring out the best in some of Colorado’s top budding young golfers, age 11-18.

Most of the 2019 Irwin Player Program participants, along with program instructors and facilitators.

And now, going into its eighth season in 2020, the Irwin Player Program will have its largest class ever, with 20 participants, including four newcomers. 

The Irwin Player Program grants those selected free unlimited use of the practice range and Kids Course at CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora — and of the championship course on a space-available basis. Participants also receive help with their games on a variety of levels, including fitness and nutrition. And all of them are expected to “give back” by volunteering.

CommonGround, a public facility that opened in 2009, is owned and operated by the CGA, which administers the Irwin Player Program that was launched in 2012 and took effect in 2013.

Hale Irwin Player Program candidates are evaluated based on their golf skill and their character, as exhibited through community service, academic performance and general demeanor.

The Irwin Player Program is named in honor of the most successful golfer with Colorado roots. A Boulder High School and University of Colorado graduate, Irwin has won five USGA championships: three U.S. Opens and two U.S. Senior Opens. Overall, he’s claimed 20 titles on the PGA Tour and a record 45 on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, and he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1992. Last year, Irwin presented the first two Hale Irwin Medals — which recognize outstanding Colorado golfers who “exhibit competitiveness, resiliency and a proven record of winning” — to Dale Douglass and, appropriately, Kupcho.

Irwin chats with several Irwin Player Program junior golfers last year.

In Colorado, Irwin claimed the 1962 CGA Junior Match Play title, the 1963 state high school championship, three straight CGA Amateurs (1963, ’64 and ’65) and the CGA Match Play in 1966. He won the NCAA individual title in 1967 while competing for CU.

Steve Irwin, Hale’s son and one of the top amateur players in the state, was instrumental in the establishment of the Irwin Player Program. The visionary behind the program was former Cherry Hills Country Club PGA head golf professional Clayton Cole.

Four new players will join 16 returnees in participating in the Hale Irwin Player Program at CommonGround this year. The newcomers include former 5A girls state high school individual winner and Colorado Junior Match Play champion Emma Bryant, who has committed to play her college golf at the University of Denver starting in the fall of 2021; Benjamin Chin of Greenwood Village; Wesley Erling of Colorado Springs; and Talen Turnbaugh of Castle Rock.

All told, in 2020 10 boys and 10 girls will participate in the Irwin Player Program. Among them is Christian Agelopoulos of Denver, now a senior at Colorado Academy, who has been with the Irwin Player Program since being selected in 2012 for the first class. Also in 2020 there will be two sets of siblings involved: Caitlyn and Benjamin Chin, and Bead and Beam Boonta.

Included as part of the program, players will have access to supervised practices and on-course coaching, will learn with the Vision54 curriculum, and will participate in fitness and nutrition sessions. 

Instructor Elena King and her team from ExperienceGolf work considerably with the Irwin Players on the course regarding Vision54, a holistic approach to the game which focuses on the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of golf along with the technical. Meanwhile, nationally-recognized golf fitness guru Dee Tidwell provides guidance on fitness and nutrition to the Irwin Players.

There’s also a volunteer aspect to the Irwin Player Program. Each participant gives of his or her time as scorekeepers in Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado 10 & under tournaments, helping with Special Olympics events at CommonGround, and/or with Drive, Chip & Putt competitions.

“We ask them to do that as a give-back,” said Erin Gangloff, managing director of programs for the CGA. “We like for them to do at least two hours a month” during the playing season.

Irwin gives some swing tips to an Irwin Player Program participant last year.

Here are the junior golfers who will participate in the Hale Irwin Player Program at CommonGround in 2020:

Abigail Aeschleman of Highlands Ranch, a ninth-grader at Mountain Ridge Middle School — 2020 will mark her third year in the program. … She recorded eight top-10 finishes in Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado events in 2019, including top-fives at two JGAC majors.

Christian Agelopoulos of Denver, a senior at Colorado Academy — 2020 will mark his eighth year in the program. … He won one Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado event in 2019 and recorded four top-10 finishes — two coming in JGAC majors.

Traejan Andrews of Windsor, a sophomore at Northridge High School in Greeley — 2020 will mark his sixth year in the program. … He posted one top-10 finish in Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado events in 2019 and notched several individual victories during the 2019 high school season.

Madeline Bante of Cherry Hills Village, an eighth-grader at Good Shepherd Catholic School — 2020 will mark her second year in the program. … She went 8-for-8 in posting top-10 finishes in Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado events in 2019.

Bead Boonta of Centennial, a freshman at Cherokee Trail High School — 2020 will mark her fifth year in the program. … She finished second in the girls 12-13 division at the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals in 2019, the best-ever showing by a Coloradan in the event — regardless of age. And she won the 13-14 girls qualifying for the IMG Academy Junior World Championships.

Beam Boonta of Centennial, a senior at Cherokee Trail High School — 2020 will mark his fifth year in the program. … He’s the older brother of fellow Irwin Player Program member Bead Boonta. He was a second team All-State 5A boys selection by CHSAANow.com in 2019. He played in six Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado Tour events in 2019, with a best finish of 14th. 

Emma Bryant of Aurora, a junior at Eaglecrest High School — 2020 is her first year in the program. … Bryant has verbally committed to play her college golf at the University of Denver starting in the fall of 2021. Bryant, younger sister of 2019 CGA Les Fowler Player of the Year Davis Bryant, won the girls title at the 2017 Colorado Junior Match Play and the 2018 5A state high school championship. She represented Colorado in the 2018 Girls Junior Americas Cup competition.

Kaylee Chen of Greenwood Village, a sophomore at Cherry Creek High School — 2020 will mark her third year in the program. … She won the Colorado Junior Amateur on the girls side last year, placed second in the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado Tour Championship and qualified for the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship last. She finished second on the JGAC 2019 Tour Girls Points List, winning six JGAC events overall.

Benjamin Chin of Greenwood Village, a freshman at Cherry Creek High School — 2020 will mark his first year in the program. … He’s the older brother of fellow Irwin Player Program member Caitlyn Chin. Benjamin finished fifth on the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado 14-18 Series boys points list. He posted six top-10 finishes in JGAC events last year.

Caitlyn Chin of Greenwood Village, a seventh-grader at Challenge School — 2020 will mark her third year in the program. … She was the top player in the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado’s 14-18 Series Girls Points List in 2019, winning six JGAC events, including the 14-18 Series Junior Championship. Last year she became the first Coloradan to compete in two Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals. And she placed third in the girls 10-12 competition at the Optimist International Junior Golf Championship.

Sofia Choi of Littleton, a sophomore at Mullen High School — 2020 will mark her fourth year in the program. … She finished seventh in the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado’s 2019 Tour Girls Points List, winning the IMG Academy Junior World qualifying tournament and placing second three times, including in the 4A state high school tourney.

Wesley Erling of Colorado Springs, a freshman at Pine Creek High School — 2020 is his first year in the program. … In 2019, Erling qualified for the IMG Academy Junior World Championships and the Optimist International Junior Golf Championship. He recorded three top-seven finishes in Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado events last year.

Merielle Gojo of Cherry Hills Village, a junior at Cherry Creek High School — 2020 will mark her fourth year in the program. … She was named a first-team 5A All-State competitor by CHSAANow.com after placing eighth in the state tourney in 2019. She won one Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado event in 2019 and recorded eight top-10 finishes, including a ninth at the Colorado Junior Match Play.

Maxwell Lange of Golden, a sophomore at Lakewood High School — 2020 will mark his third year in the program. … He placed 10th on the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado Tour Boys Point List, winning one event and placing in the top 10 six times, including posting a runner-up in the Colorado Junior Match Play.

Katelyn Lehigh of Loveland, a sophomore at Loveland High School — 2020 will mark her fourth year in the program. … She posted seven top-10 finishes in Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado events in 2019, including a 10th place at the Colorado Junior Amateur and an eighth in the 5A girls state high school tourney.

Kyle Leydon of Commerce City, a freshman at Brighton High School — 2020 will be his second year in the program. … Leydon finished second on the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado’s 2019 points list, notching one victory and seven top-five finishes. He was named the JGAC’s most-improved male player of 2019.

Hunter Swanson of Denver, a sophomore at Northfield High School — 2020 will mark his third year in the program. … He finished eighth on the Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado’s Tour Boys Points List in 2019, winning once in JGAC events and recording seven top-fives, including a runner-up in the 4A boys state high school meet.

Natalie Tatar of Denver, a sophomore at St. Mary’s Academy — 2020 will be her second year in the program. … Tatar notched four top-10 finishes in 2019 in Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado events. She was named a 3A first-team girls high school golf selection in 2019 as a freshman by CHSAANow.com after tying for eighth place in the state meet.

Talen Turnbaugh of Castle Rock, an eighth-grader at Mesa Middle School — 2020 will mark his first year in the program. … In 2019, he posted four top-four finishes in Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado events, including a fourth at the 11-13 Series Junior Championship.

Jeffrey Zhou of Greenwood Village, a junior at Kent Denver — 2020 will mark his fourth year in the program. … He finished in the top 10 in seven Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado events in 2019, including a fourth place in the 3A state high school meet, a fifth in the Colorado Junior Match Play, a seventh at the JGAC Tour Championship and a 10th in the Colorado Junior PGA Championship.