The 2019 Masters’ will be remembered for a number of remarkable events. Initially, Tiger Woods’ first Masters’ win since 2005, along with his first major win in 11 years, since the US Open in 2008 at Torrey Pines. As exciting as was Tiger dramatically coming from two strokes behind on Sunday to become the second-oldest golfer at age 43 to win at Augusta, this feat is not the only thing that will be remembered uniquely about this year’s Masters.’
For another golfer, Jennifer Kupcho, originally from Westminster, Colorado, who at the time was a senior at Wake Forest University, majoring in Communications and a member of the women’s golf team, this year’s Masters’ is not just a historic moment in her life, but also in the sport of golf itself.
Jennifer became the first winner of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur golf tournament held April 3rd-6th, 2019, the week before the Masters’ Tournament. The event is the first of its kind at the famed Augusta National Golf Club in its long, storied history and features 72 of the top amateurs from around the world. The tournament is a 54-hole, stroke-play event, including Jennifer and runner-up Maria Fassi from Mexico, who was also a senior, at the University of Arkansas. Both Jennifer and Maria deferred their LPGA Tour qualification until after graduation in May, in order to continue to compete on this level. This decision allowed them both to write their names in the history books once more.
Never mind that Jennifer accomplished this win in spite of suffering from a migraine headache that hampered her vision on three holes during her final round; a round in which she shot a 5-under, 67 and finished 10-under for the tournament. She managed the stress of the first amateur tournament for women at the storied Augusta National Golf Club, an exclusive golf club that didn’t include a female member until 2012. Jennifer’s accomplishment, a three-shot victory over a fellow competitor and good friend, Maria Fassi, provided an exciting finish to what will become a new tradition at Augusta, intended to draw even more attention to the future of women’s golf.
To her coach and loyal teammates and friends on the Wake Forest golf team, Jennifer’s accomplishment doesn’t come as a surprise. After all, she was the reigning 2018 NCAA Women’s Singles National Champion, National Player of the Year, and is a finalist for the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year, presented later this month, as well as the top-ranked amateur in the world. And yet, this was a historical tournament at an even more historical golf course that has rattled even the best of professional golfers throughout its history. To win, she needed to play at her best, and notwithstanding the momentary migraine distraction that could have ended her chances, she achieved that goal and came out on top. This is a destination she’s sure to reach more and more upon joining the pro tour after graduation.
In spite of her previous accomplishments, she sees this as a pivotal moment in her golfing career. One of the things she is proud to be remembered for. When asked how she feels this new prestigious tournament will impact women’s golf and young girls coming up in the sport, she answered, “Any time women’s golf can be in the national spotlight like it was during the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, it can only help the sport’s popularity. Hopefully, there were young players who watched the tournament, either in person or on TV, who now have something else to strive for when they get older.”
Regarding the honor of her name being the first on the champion’s list of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, a list that will ultimately become long, she feels privileged to be part of what will absolutely become a Who’s Who of women’s golf in the future. Her win at Augusta has brought well-earned attention and with her increased recognition, she described how she plans to promote the sport of women’s golf. “Hopefully, what I was able to do, along with Maria Fassi, is show that you can stay in college and complete your degree and then have success as a pro after school. Collegiate golf really helped me prepare for a career on the LPGA Tour, and I want young golfers to know how beneficial playing in college can be in terms of preparing you for life after school, both on and off the course.”
She’s learned a lot throughout her career thus far. Her solid advice to all those young ladies coming up pursuing the sport they love: “You need to spend a lot of time practicing and improving. Golf isn’t a game where you can be successful without putting in the hard work. If you take the time and are committed to the work and listening to your coaches, the rewards are worth it. It could be winning a tournament, playing a great round or even hitting that first perfect drive, golf will pay you back for your devotion to it.”
It all hasn’t been without its challenges; however, as she explained her biggest challenge in the sport. “I have had migraines at times during my career. I hadn’t had one since my freshman year before I experienced the one during the final round in Augusta. It blurred my vision for a few holes and I had to depend on my caddie to help me line up shots and putts until I started to be able to see again. To have something like that happen, when you have no control over it, on that stage, was a big challenge, but I knew it would get better. I just had to get through it.” Let this be an inspiration to others who will undoubtedly have their own challenges to face head-on and overcome.
When it comes to having a women’s professional version of the Masters’ at Augusta in the future, she feels there are some slight modifications that would be necessary. “It was incredible to play Augusta National for a tournament, with the beauty of the course and the huge crowds. It will be tough for the course to host an LPGA event. There are only two sets of tees at Augusta, the Masters’ tees and the members’ tees. We played the members’ tees, which were around 6,300 yards, and they wouldn’t be long enough for an LPGA event. The Masters’ tees are at 7,400 yards, which is too long, so they would need to create all new tee boxes in between, if they ever decided to have a women’s professional event at Augusta National.” As for her excitement about the future of women’s amateur and professional golf, she added, “I love the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and I am honored to be the inaugural champion. It is a great event for golf fans to be introduced to players who will be coming on the LPGA Tour in future years. Winning the event, in that atmosphere, has given me a lot of confidence for when I start my professional career.”
As thrilling as Jennifer’s win at Augusta was to witness, especially knowing it was someone who represents the Triad’s ACC team in Wake Forest University, there will no doubt be more excitement ahead as we watch her on the LPGA Tour in the future. Good luck, Jennifer; you made us all very proud!