From Smith to Kupcho – Augusta History

Jennifer Kupcho Makes All Sort of History at Augusta National Women’s Amateur

Many, many years ago, the great Bobby Jones and Mr. Clifford Roberts created a course and an event at Augusta National that would reign as the greatest American major, and maybe the greatest in the world. Mr. Roberts declared that as long as he lived, golfers would be white and caddies would be black. That didn’t bode well for the age of civil rights in this country. Women were so far off from his thoughts, he didn’t even bother to bring it up. That is an unfortunate piece of history, but there was good news while we waited. Horton Smith, regarded as one of the greatest putters of all time, won the first Masters Tournament in 1934. Then it was called the Augusta National Invitation Tournament. He was the first to use a sand wedge in competition and got Gene Sarazen hooked on it. Those guys made a lot of history, and kept making it for decades. Today, it was the women’s turn, and Jennifer Kupcho took her turn. Now we can look at the hallowed halls and declare that Kupcho made a whole lot of history herself, on a course she wasn’t even supposed to play a year ago.
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Even her historic tournament has a ring to it, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. It sounds a lot like Horton Smith’s tournament. Seventy-two women completed the field, and the upper tier finished Sunday at Augusta. Jennifer Kupcho, a Colorado native and a senior at Wake Forest University, came back from two down in the final round to blow away the field in the last five holes.  I remembered that Wake Forest was the alma mater of Arnold Palmer, and considering some of Kupcho’s difficulties in the final round, my romantic self thought that maybe Arnie took a hand in it. The truth of it is that the eventual winner suffered through the front nine with an excruciating migraine headache, so bad that she could barely see. Maria Fassi caught her with a three-under front nine, and held it until they got to the 13th. Up to that point, Kupcho explained that she was telling the caddie to line them up the way he saw them, and she’d try to hit them there. That’s a golfer in trouble.  But suddenly, Kupcho was back. She eagled the 13th to tie the score again.  Then she birdied the 15th and the par three 16th. In true Augusta drama, she rolled in a twenty-footer to birdie on the 18th. That should have earned her a green jacket. It goes under the category of “Come on, now you’re just showing off,”  but it’s the perfect time to pull out one’s best, when there is history to be made.

Kupcho is the number one ranked amateur in the country, so it stands to reason she would be a contender, but under such conditions? Only a sudden missing limb could be worse for a golfer who needs to both concentrate and see clearly. In one of the most satisfying interviews I have seen in a while, Kupcho explained how the day went for her. She came across as a person who understood the epic achievement she had just pulled off, but aptly showed her appreciation and gratitude to the golf gods and the venue where she broke through for all women. Unassuming and authentic, she was easy to like and appreciate. Kupcho is, as of today, every bit as much of Augusta history as Horton Smith, Snead, Nicklaus, Player and all the  Masters winners. If she were to play as poorly as I do for the rest of her life starting tomorrow morning, she would still be a big part of golf history – and you know she’s not going to do that. No, I don’t think so, either.

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Augusta got its usual round of criticism for not moving fast enough, but I had to put those sentiments aside today. The club, which makes its own policies, took another step this week, at its own pace, but it took it. The presentation of the trophy was done with all the respect the winner and the occasion deserved. The winner and all the history-making runners-up responded with excellent play, terrific sportsmanship, and all the drama a tournament would ever need to succeed.  I can’t imagine this not continuing.  Mr. Roberts must be in utter shock somewhere , but that’s all right. We were due for some changes around here, and this one just made the greatest piece of golf real estate in America even more valuable.

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