Jennifer Kupcho took the last victory to jump into Poppie’s Pond on Sunday afternoon in the California desert, ending the tournament better known as the Dinah Shore Half-Century Race in Mission Hills. Six shots before the start of the day, Kupcho shot a 2 of 74 for a two-shot win over Jessica Korda in the Chevron Championship. “I think it’s surreal,” Kupcho said. “To be a big winner is special and to be the last person here in Mission Hills to jump into Poppie’s Pond is really special.” The 24-year-old from Colorado finished 14-under 274. She is the seventh player to win her first LPGA Tour title though she started in 1972 and came of age in 1983. The tournament moves to Houston the next year after failing to attract a sponsor to keep him in the desert.
Kupcho took the traditional dip in the pond next to the 18th green with husband Jay Monahan and caddie David Eller.
“To be able to (win) quickly after my wedding and to be able to celebrate with my husband and have him here is really special,” Kupcho said. “I didn’t see him cross the bridge. He picked me up. I don’t think he ever picked me up, so that was pretty cool.” Seven strokes ahead of Korda and defending champion Patty Tavatanakit at 18 under after birdie putts over 30 feet on the par-4 fourth and par-3 fifth, Kupcho played the final 13 holes 4-over.
“I honestly came out just trying to pull a couple under,” Kupcho said. “I mean, I had a six-shot lead and I shot 8 under yesterday, so I figured if anybody could do that, then they deserved to be in the playoffs. That was my mentality and what I fought for all day. I didn’t get there, but I took it out anyway.” Korda shot a 69. Battling a back problem, she nailed her approach for the eagle on the par-4 third and shot within four with birdies on Nos. 11 and 12.
Korda was only two strokes back after Kupcho bogeyed 13 and 14, but went three behind with his own bogey on 15 and parried the final three.
“Second place isn’t bad after being 3 out of seven (Thursday), so pretty proud of me,” Korda said after his best major result. “I wanted to win this one because I love this event. Quite disappointed that we’re leaving, but I understand why.” Kupcho pushed the advantage to four with a 3-foot birdie putt on the 15th, and Korda missed a 12-foot birdie try shortly after the 16. Kupcho bogeyed the final two holes, putting three the par- 5 18th.
Kupcho won three years after losing a spot in the event to play and win that week in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
“I mean, it’s surreal to be able to say that I was the last person here and the first person in Augusta,” Kupcho said. “Hopefully it’s not a continuing trend, because we won’t be stopping in many places soon.” The 2018 NCAA champion at Wake Forest, Kupcho broke through in her 65th start on the LPGA Tour.
“I think I’ve matured a lot over the last year and since I’ve been here,” Kupcho said. “But I think my putt has improved a lot. I was able to calm down a lot better. I still have tantrums, but I think that’s how I get out of it quickly and I moving on. I think my whole mental game has gotten stronger.” The first American winner since Brittany Lincicome in 2015, Kupcho opened Thursday with a 66 for a share of the lead. She shot a 70 on Friday and a 64 on Saturday to break the 54-hole tournament record at under 16. She missed a chance to break the 72-of-19 mark set by Dottie Pepper in 1999.
Pia Babnik of Slovenia finished with a 66 to finish third at 11 under.
Tavatanakit, playing alongside Kupcho the past two days, birdied the 18th for a 72 tied for fourth at 10 under with 2014 winner Lexi Thompson (68), second-round leader Hinako Shibuno (66) and Celine Boutier (67).
“Incredible memories here,” Thompson said.
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