Three-time LPGA Tour winner Jennifer Kupcho is the first to admit that the 2023 season has been challenging thus far. It was always going to be hard to follow up the performance that the 26-year-old had in 2022 - Kupcho captured all three of her career LPGA Tour titles in a four-month span last season - but this year has seen some struggles from the major champion, who missed two cuts in her first nine starts of 2023, recording a best finish of T16 at the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. But her luck began to change a couple of weeks ago at the inaugural Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National Golf Club.
Starting the day in a tie for sixth and five back of the lead, Kupcho carded a final-round, 3-under 69 that saw her hole out on the par-4, 7th hole for eagle to post at 9-under, a 72-hole total that was good enough to put herself in a playoff with fellow Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion Rose Zhang. While Kupcho ultimately lost the playoff on the second extra hole, it was a turning point for the Colorado native’s season, and she hopes to carry that momentum to Belmont, Mich. as she looks ahead to her second title defense of the 2023 season at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give.
“At Mizuho, I actually tried a different thing than I've ever done in my life of not looking at any leaderboards. Coming off the last green on Sunday I had no idea where Rose was, so it was definitely very interesting,” said Kupcho of her tenth start this season. “I had missed a few cuts before and I was literally just leaderboard watching on the cut line, and that's not going to help anything so trying to fix that mentality and being comfortable being on top again.
“I think I was content with how I played because I was focusing on how I was playing instead of comparing how everybody else was playing. I think that's how I shot 3-under the last couple days. Girls played really well on Saturday, a lot better than 3-under, but to shoot 3-under on a Sunday when it was a really tough round, I just went out there with what I wanted to do in my mind, trying to shoot a couple under, 3-under, and not seeing what everybody else is doing. I think that's how I was able to get into the playoff there.”
Ironically, Kupcho earned her second career victory by defeating Nelly Korda and Leona Maguire in the first playoff of her LPGA Tour career last season at Blythefield Country Club. Now one year on from that win, Kupcho fully appreciates what her performance at the Meijer LPGA Classic did for her confidence, especially after becoming a Rolex First-Time Winner at the 2022 Chevron Championship, the last edition of the event to be held at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
“Being in a playoff, it's really difficult. You have all kinds of nerves, but to come out and beat Nelly (Korda) and Leona (Maguire) in that playoff, it definitely meant a lot to my game and myself just to prove that I'm ready to be out there, my game is there,” said Kupcho, who won with a birdie on the second extra hole last year. “It was really hard after I won Chevron. Growing up, I always want to be a major champion, so once I had done that, it's like, well, what's next? Had a little bit of a funk there kind of leading up. But, to come out and play really well against a stacked field at the top the leaderboard, it felt really good.”
As she looks to successfully defend for the first time in her young career, Kupcho will continue to ride the form she garnered with her runner-up performance at the Mizuho Americas Open, hoping to totally flip the script of her entire season as the four remaining major championships loom large. And luckily for her, this week in Grand Rapids is much less demanding than her last title defense at The Chevron Championship, something that could very well play to her advantage at a venue that she seems to favor.
“It's a little bit different compared to defending at Chevron. That was obviously a different golf course, so it's a different feel doing that versus coming here,” she said. :Playing well at Liberty National a couple weeks ago, coming into this event I feel a little bit better about my game after a rough start to the year. I'm excited to be back, and it's comfortable to actually be on the same golf course defending.”