The story of Jennifer Kupcho in 2019 plays out like a fable: Sometimes, if you choose the harder route, you can get everything you wanted. In the case of the 22-year-old Colorado native, it’s a degree from an elite university, LPGA Tour card and a unique place in golf history.
At the end of 2018, Kupcho was faced with a difficult decision. She made it through LPGA Q Series and had earned an LPGA card for 2019. The only issue: She was one semester away from graduating from Wake Forest. Leaving the team in the middle of the college season would mean she’d miss defending her NCAA title, and she wouldn’t get her degree. Kupcho was lucky, however, in that the tour had begun a deferral program that let college golfers who made it through Q Series wait to begin their professional career after completing their college season.
Taking the deferral was a big risk; the choice left Kupcho with a truncated LPGA season, making it harder to earn enough money to keep her card for 2020. But it gave her the opportunity to play in the national championship with her Demon Deacon teammates as well as participate in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. The latter of which made her famous.
In a bit of poetic justice, the 54-hole tournament which played the final round at Augusta National turned into a duel between Kupcho and Maria Fassi, a native of Mexico and senior at the University of Arkansas who also had earned her LPGA card at Q Series and who deferred her membership until the spring. Kupcho started the day with a two-stroke lead. Battling a migraine, a problem she’s dealt with other times in her young career, Kupcho made the turn two shots behind Fassi.
“I just told myself, ‘Hey, you got it. Relax. There's nothing you can do,’ ” Kupcho said. “And I think going through my head, I just knew that the blurriness would go away, and then I know it just comes with a bad headache after, so I was going to be able to recover.”
What happened on the back nine were the kind of heroics you’d see from a Masters champion at Augusta National, the highlight being Kupcho’s eagle at 13. She played her last six holes in five under, the crowd roaring as she birdied the 18th for a four-shot victory.
“To win at Augusta National, just to get to walk the fairways and walk up 18 with as many fans as there were, it's an experience like none other,” Kupcho said.
Kupcho turned pro in late May—after the Demon Deacons finished runners-up at NCAAs—bringing her big, athletic swing to the LPGA Tour. Coming off the high of Augusta, however, Kupcho didn’t find success immediately on tour. She finished T-62 at the U.S. Women’s Open, her first event as a pro, and missed a couple cuts. It was at her sixth start, the Marathon Classic, that she found her footing, finshing T-5.
Two events later, she finished T-2 at the Evian Championship, closing with a five-under 66 on a rainy Sunday in France. It was the low round of the day. The high finish at a major, and its $290,778 payday, took the stress off whether she’d keep her card following year. Her season became less about worrying for the future and more about competing in the present. Kupcho recorded one more top-five finish and qualified for the CME Group Tour Championship, where she finished 38th.
“It’s amazing,” Kupcho said of the success she found in 2019, as an amateur and a pro. “Obviously I came in [to the tour season] struggling a little with my golf game. But I figured out how to pull it out and I’m proud of myself.”