Kupcho takes last victory leap in Mission Hills finale

Jennifer Kupcho smiles after a birdie putt on the fourth hole during the final round of the LPGA Chevron Championship golf tournament Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Jennifer Kupcho took the last victory leap into Poppie’s Pond late Sunday afternoon in the California desert, ending the tournament best known as the Dinah Shore’s half-century run at Mission Hills.

Six strokes ahead entering the day, Kupcho shot a 2-over 74 for a two-stroke victory over Jessica Korda in The Chevron Championship.

“I think it’s surreal,” Kupcho said. “To be a major winner is really special and to be the last person here at Mission Hills to jump into Poppie’s Pond, it’s all really special.”

The 24-year-old from Colorado finished at 14-under 274. She’s the seventh player to win their first LPGA Tour title in the event that started in 1972 and became a major in 1983. The tournament is moving to Houston next year after failing to attract a sponsor to keep it in the desert.

Kupcho took the traditional plunge into the pond next to the 18th green with husband Jay Monahan and caddie David Eller.

“To just be able to (win) quickly after my wedding and be able to celebrate with my husband and have him here, it’s really special,” Kupcho said. “I didn’t see him coming across the bridge. He picked me up. I don’t think he’s ever picked me up, so that was pretty cool.”

Seven strokes ahead of Korda and defending champion Patty Tavatanakit at 18 under after holing birdie putts over 30 feet on the par-4 fourth and par-3 fifth, Kupcho played the final 13 holes in 4 over.

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

Korda shot a 69. Fighting a back problem, she holed her approach for eagle on the par-4 third and pulled within four with birdies on Nos. 11 and 12.

Korda was only two strokes back after Kupcho bogeyed 13 and 14, but fell three behind with a bogey of her own on 15 and parred the last three.

“Second place is not bad after being 3 over through seven (Thursday), so pretty proud of myself,” Korda said after her best major finish. “I really wanted to win this one because I love this event. Pretty bummed 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 soon after on 16. Kupcho bogeyed the final two holes, three-putting the par-5 18th.

Kupcho won three years after passing up 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 first person at Augusta,” Kupcho said. “Hopefully, that isn’t a continuing pattern, because we aren’t stopping in a lot of 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 in the last year and even since I’ve been out here,” Kupcho said. “But I think my putting has got a lot better. I’ve been able to calm myself down a lot better. Obviously, I still have my spurts of anger, but I think that’s how I get it out quickly and then move on. I think my whole mental game has gotten stronger.”

The first U.S. winner since Brittany Lincicome in 2015, Kupcho opened Thursday with a 66 for a share of the lead. She had a 70 on Friday and had the 64 on Saturday to break the tournament 54-hole record at 16 under. She missed a chance to break the 72-hole mark of 19 under set by Dottie Pepper in 1999.

Pia Babnik of Slovenia closed with a 66 to finish third at 11 under.

Hinako Shibuno of Japan tips her hat to the gallery on the fourth hole during the final round of the LPGA Chevron Championship golf tournament Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Tavatanakit, playing alongside Kupcho the last two days, birdied the 18th for a 72 to tie for fourth at 10 under with 2014 winner Lexi Thompson (68), second-round leader Hinako Shibuno (66) and Celine Boutier (67).

“Such amazing memories here,” Thompson said.