Jennifer Kupcho watches her tee shot on the second hole of her third round—when she began a four-birdie run that moved her into the lead, which she never relinquished. Credit: Kevin Fitzgerald

The march toward victory began in earnest for 24-year old Jennifer Kupcho on the second hole of Saturday’s trip around the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage.

After making par on the first hole, Kupcho began a run of four straight birdies at that second hole, launching her to an 8-under-par round. She finished the day with a total of nine birdies; with only one bogey marring her card, the score of 64 was her best one-round total since she joined the tour in 2019. Her three-round aggregate score of 200 set a new standard for the 50-year-old tournament, now called the Chevron Championship.

Teeing off on Saturday as one of three players tied for second place, Kupcho played one group in front of leader Hinako Shibuno, alongside the event’s defending champ, Patty Tavatanakit. While the 22-year-old Tavatanakit could not keep pace with Kupcho’s birdie blitz, she did manage to shoot 2-under-par, enough to keep her in second place at the end of the day.

The two were paired again during Sunday’s final round—and once again, Kupcho enjoyed the best results on the front nine. Making several long putts, Kupcho made the final round turn sitting at 17-under, with three competitors—Tavatanakit, Jessica Korda and Pia Babnik—tied for second place at -11.

At this point, wind and nerves became bigger factors, and the final nine holes proved to be the biggest challenge of the week for Kupcho: She managed two birdies and two pars to go along with five bogies as she closed the tournament. Even after taking three putts on the final green for a bogey 6, Kupcho had won win the first LPGA tournament of her career, and the first major of 2022. She outlasted Korda, who, with a 3-under final round, closed the gap between them to two shots.

After her traditional leap into Poppie’s Pond, alongside the Mission Hills 18th green, Kupcho met with the media for her post-tournament press conference.

“Honestly, I came out just trying to shoot a couple under,” she said. “I mean, I had a six-stroke lead, and I shot 8-under yesterday, so I figured if someone (else) can do that, then they deserve to be in a playoff. That was my mentality and what I was fighting for all day. Obviously, I didn’t get there, but still pulled it out.”

About an hour before Kupcho’s final putt, Golf Channel lead analyst Judy Rankin—who won the Dinah Shore-Colgate Championship at Mission Hills in 1976—reflected on the bittersweet edge to this year’s final tour visit to Rancho Mirage.

“Mission Hills will never ever be forgotten,” Rankin said. “… I’ll stick my foot in my mouth, maybe—I’m going to say that I don’t know anything more than anybody else does—but I believe in the next few years, the best golfers in the game will be back at Mission Hills in some form or fashion.”

A lot of Coachella Valley golf fans, when they heard that comment on the air late Sunday, thought to themselves: “From her lips, to the ears of LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan.”

Jessica Korda, who finished second at the Chevron Championship, hits her approach to the seventh green during her first round of play. Credit: Kevin Fitzgerald
Jennifer Kupcho tees off on the second hole of her third round, when she began a four-birdie run that led her to her Chevron Championship win. Credit: Kevin Fitzgerald

Kevin Fitzgerald

Kevin Fitzgerald is the staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. He started as a freelance writer for the Independent in June 2013, more than a year after he and his wife moved from Los Angeles...