The top Colorado golf stories of 2023, Part I
By Gary Baines – 12/26/2023
’Tis the season to not only celebrate the holidays, but to reflect on the year that’s been.
That goes for Colorado golf too. And, as has been our custom for well over a decade, this takes the form of noting the stories of the year before we toss or recycle that calendar that’s been a presence for the last 12 months.
Because there are so many candidates for the list, we break our top 25 into two installments. The first runs today, and the second later this week. And, to preserve a little suspense, we count down from 25 to 1, with an honorable-mention list of top stories running with the second installment.
So, without further ado, here’s the rundown, starting with stories No. 25 through 13:
25. This pick is kind of an odd one as it mainly involves German Bernhard Langer, who has no major connections to Colorado. But when he won the U.S. Senior Open in July, it marked his 46th victory on PGA Tour Champions, moving him out of a tie for the career record with Hale Irwin, who grew up in Boulder and played golf and football for the University of Colorado. With 45 senior wins, Irwin had held or shared the Champions career victory record for more than 22 years. He surpassed Lee Trevino’s then-record 29 senior victories in early 2001.While Irwin won his 45th Champions event at age 61, Langer chalked up No. 46 less than two months shy of turning 66.
24. The Colorado PGA has been presenting a Player of the Yearhonor since 1964, but never has a golfer earned that honor as many times as Geoff Keffer, who received the award for the eighth time in October. That pulled Keffer out of a tie at seven with Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Bob Hold. And, it should be noted, Keffer has also been CPGA Associate Player of the Year on three occasions. READ MORE
23. Before this year, no one since 1947 had been elected to a second term as national president of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. But that drought ended in February as Colorado State University alum — and former Keystone/Estes Park/Pagosa Springs resident — Kevin Breen pulled off the feat. READ MORE
22. It took a while — well into his 30s — for Colorado native Gunner Wiebe to earn a card on one of the world’s top tours, but he did so in 2022 through successfully negotiating three stages of Q-school for the DP World Tour, previously known as the European Tour. But the 2022-23 season wasn’t a one-and-done for the Kent Denver graduate and 2010 CGA Player of the year. Thanks largely to a runner-up finish at the British Masters early in the summer, Wiebe retained his DP World Tour card for 2023-24 season. Also in 2023, Wiebe qualified for — and competed in — his first British Open. READ MORE
Jacob Eagan competed in the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National in April.
21. Jacob Eagan of Castle Rock narrowly missed becoming the first Coloradan to win an overall title at the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National. In April, Eagan lost the boys 7-9 competition to Knox Mason of Portland, Tenn., in a playoff. Eagan became the second-ever DCP national overall runner-up from Colorado, and Brady Shaw of Pueblo later joined him as a second-place overall finisher — in his case in the boys 10-11 division. In 2019, Chunya Boonta of Centennial was the first DCP national runner-up from Colorado as she placed second in the girls 12-13 division. READ MORE
20. Leigha Devine of Windsor won the CGA Women’s Stroke Play for the second time, giving her four victories in CGA women’s majors in just over two years. By winning four CGA women’s majors in three seasons, Devine joined the likes of Jennifer Kupcho (four wins from 2015-17), Wendy Werley (four in 1988-89), Carol Flenniken (four from 1970-72 and seven in five years: 1968-72), Marcia Bailey (four from 1965-67), Joan Birkland (four from 1964-66) and Sally Hardwick (five from 1957-59). READ MORE
19. At age 34, former Air Force Academy golfer Tom Whitney earned a PGA Tour card for the first time. By finishing in the top 30 (21st, to be precise) in the 2023 Korn Ferry Tour point standings, Whitney became just the second former AFA Falcon to land PGA Tour status, joining Kyle Westmoreland (2022). READ MORE
Tom Whitney earned a PGA Tour card for the first time.
18. Colorado Golf Hall of Famer and former CGA president John Gardner II, who passed away at age 97 in February, managed something remarkable, longevity-wise. At the time of his death, he had been a member at Lakewood Country Club for more than 80 years — since 1941. READ MORE
17. With the University of Colorado and Colorado State advancing, Colorado put two teams into the men’s NCAA Division I national golf championships for first time in the 21st century. READ MORE CU went on to post the program’s second-best NCAA nationals finish in the last 40 years, while CSU notched its second-best showing ever at the event. READ MORE
16. Though Colorado native Jennifer Kupcho didn’t win on the LPGA Tour in 2023 after posting three victories in 2022, she came very close to the top spot. In fact, had she prevailed in a playoff at the Mizuho Americas Open in early June, she would have prevented Rose Zhang from became the first player since 1951 to win on the LPGA Tour in her pro debut. As it was, Kupcho’s playoff runner-up was her best showing of the year. She followed it up with a sixth place at the Meijer LPGA Classic, marking her only top-10s of the season. READ MORE Still, the Jefferson Academy graduate represented the U.S. on the Solheim Cup team for the second straight year. Early in the year, Kupcho was named the Colorado Sportswoman of the Year for 2022. And in the fall, at age 26, Kupcho was voted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame.
15. Drew Stoltz, who grew up in Fort Collins and won the 2004 CGA Amateur, and Drew Kittleson set a record by qualifying for their second championship match at the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, but they fell just short of title again as Cal teammates Aaron Du and Sampson Zheng prevailed. Stoltz and Kittleson lost in the final 2 up this year and in 19 holes last year. READ MORE
14. Lauren Lehigh of Loveland has proven quite a competitor in arguably the world’s most prestigious women’s amateur golf championship, the U.S. Women’s Amateur. In 2023, the University of New Mexico golfer fell victim to a big comeback in the round of 16. In 2022, she advanced to the quarterfinals. READ MORE Later, Lehigh and younger sister Katelyn, each winner of two state high school individual titles, earned qualifying medalist honors for the 2024 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball. In the spring, Lauren finished 21st individually at NCAA Div. I nationals.
13. A record-tying total of six people, including two tour players, were voted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame and will be inducted as the class of 2024. The group includes Wyndham Clark, Jennifer Kupcho, George Solich, Pat Hamill, Joe Assell and Gene Torres. READ MORE
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