For now, LPGA Tour rookie Jennifer Kupcho is known for what she achieved as an amateur.
But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Kupcho was the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world. She won the 2018 NCAA Women’s Golf Championship while at Wake Forest and was named Player of the Year that same season. She was a member of the victorious U.S. Curtis Cup team. But it was her victory at the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, in the first women’s championship to be played at the home of the Masters Tournament, that made her famous.
After her victory in Augusta she embarked on a media tour that included stops at the Today Show, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Sky Sports and Morning Drive, which further fanned the sparks of stardom. Six months later, just as the embers of her historic victory began to fade, she received a gift in the mail.
Last week, a pair of crystal glasses from Augusta National arrived on Kupcho’s doorstep in Colorado. They were sent to commemorate her eagle at the par-5 13th hole during the women’s event, the same gift participants at the Masters are given when they make an eagle during the major championship. That eagle for Kupcho triggered a run that saw her go 5-under over her final six holes to defeat fellow LPGA rookie, Maria Fassi.
“I had talked to Bubba Watson about them when I was down there,” Kupcho told LPGA.com about the glasses. “To actually get them and follow the Masters’ tradition was really cool.”
The glasses are sitting at home on a shelf. They haven’t been used for any celebratory drinks, instead they’re a simple reminder of what she achieved just a few months ago. While Kupcho is quick to acknowledge her victory at Augusta National earned her plenty of fans, she’s ready to be known for something else – as a successful professional.
“I’m just trying to move on and be good as a professional,” Kupcho said.
This week, she takes another step in that quest as a professional as she’s playing the Tour’s Asia swing for the first time. It’s an opportunity limited to the top 62 on the Tour’s official money list following the final full-field event of the year, the Volunteers of America Classic. Kupcho, who earned her card at the 2018 LPGA Q-Series, didn’t turn professional until she completed her season at Wake Forest and made her debut at the U.S. Women’s Open at the end of May.
In just five months, Kupcho earned $388,163 to climb to No. 42 on the money list, which is the second-most earned by any rookie in 2019. Her biggest payday came at The Evian Championship, where she closed with a thrilling 5-under-par 66 to finish T2 in her debut.
“To play as well as I did at Evian and not really have to worry about the rest of the season and just learn everything, it’s been really nice,” Kupcho said. “I think it has helped me learn a lot more than I ever could of.”
Kupcho’s success in France afforded her a unique opportunity that not all rookies get to enjoy in being able to focus on the learning experience that comes with joining the LPGA Tour and not stress about keeping her card for 2020. No matter how much success players have in the amateur or college ranks, turning professional and joining a worldwide Tour like the LPGA, is an adjustment. There is a learning curve for even the best amateur players and the competition is stiff. Amy Olson, who joined the Tour in 2014, holds the record for the most collegiate victories at 20, but remains in search of her first win on Tour. Lizette Salas, the first athlete to be named a four-time All-American at the University of Southern California, has won once on Tour. Kupcho hit the learning curve, too. This year as she’s transitioned to the professional ranks, she missed the cut in 8 of 14 starts.
“When I missed so many cuts, obviously it was a really big struggle because I’m used to playing well,” Kupcho said. “Professional golf isn’t easy, and you have to accept it and work harder. That’s probably what I’ve taken the most out of it.”
Kupcho is also learning what it takes to play more golf than she did as an amateur. She’s figuring out how to manage her time, juggle a worldwide travel schedule and how to conserve her energy over four-week stretches on the road. She’s added a new level to that challenge this week in the People’s Republic of China where she’s competing in the Buick LPGA Shanghai.
“I didn’t think the jet lag would be quite this bad,” Kupcho said about the 12-hour time difference. “It’s been pretty rough, and I got a head cold on top of it. It hasn’t been fun but getting better.”
Kupcho is looking forward to exploring the world, particularly Korea and Japan, two of the five countries that encompass the Asia swing, which also includes the People’s Republic of China and Chinese Taipei.
“I’m excited about it all,” said Kupcho. “Everyone says Korea’s food is good and Japan’s food is good so I’m excited for both of those.”
Without any cuts during the Asia swing, Kupcho has a chance to make up some ground. Since she joined the Tour in May, she has a bit of catching up to do when it comes to earning points to qualify for the CME Group Tour Championship. Ranked No. 64, she’s currently four positions outside the qualifying criteria for the season-ending event, which is limited to the top 60 in the points’ standings. Kupcho will need to finish 40th or better each of the next four weeks in order to earn points. Playing her way into the field in Naples is her number one priority over the closing stretch.
Learning what it takes to get into the final event of the year is just another hurdle Kupcho will try to clear in what has been a whirlwind year. In April, she won in Augusta. In July, she finished runner-up for the first time in a major. Now, she’s playing in her first Asia swing. Those are all major accomplishments in a year dotted with challenges. But with each hurdle she’s faced, whether it was adjusting to jet lag, playing more events, or getting more rest, she’s learned what it takes to compete as a professional on the LPGA Tour.
And that’s not a bad thing.