Kupcho’s long and successful year comes to an end

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — The goal for Jennifer Kupcho was to get to the CME Group Tour Championship. Now that she’s here, a big part of her can’t wait for it to end.

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Even for a 22-year-old fresh out of college, Kupcho has every reason to be worn out.

“I’m looking forward to the end of the tournament,” Kupcho said. “I’m excited to play in it. It was my goal after I made it into Asia events, to get into the CME. But I’m definitely tired.”

An NCAA champion as a junior, Kupcho is best known for her back-nine charge to win the Augusta National Women’s Amateur the Saturday before the Masters. The performance was so memorable that Golf Channel has produced a one-hour retrospective to be shown Nov. 26.

Equally impressive is what brought her to Tiburon Golf Club.

Kupcho qualified for the LPGA Tour last year and deferred her membership until she finished her career at Wake Forest. She was No. 700 in the women’s world ranking when she made her pro debut May 30 at the U.S. Women’s Open.

That was the start of 18 tournaments over the next five months, one fewer event than Nelly Korda played all year. The only tournament Kupcho missed was a 54-hole event in Arkansas. She also got a three-week break in September around the Solheim Cup.

While she didn’t win, Kupcho had enough big weeks — mostly her runner-up finish in the final major, the Evian Championship — to make just over $500,000, be No. 38 in the 60-player field at the Tour Championship and move to No. 52 in the world.

The hardest part?

“The stress of wanting to get my card back and having such little time to do it,” Kupcho said. “My body got tired very quickly. I wasn’t used to playing that much.”

Adding to the difficulty were all the new courses to learn. Kupcho routinely would play a practice round on Tuesday followed by the pro-am, meaning she spent six out of seven days on the golf course for 18 weeks.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that two of her best finishes — a tie for fifth in the Marathon Classic and a tie for second at Evian — were tournaments she had played before as an amateur. Her other top 10 was two weeks ago when she tied for fourth at the Toto Japan Classic. She attributed that to fatigue, having played all four events on the Asia swing to assure a spot in Naples.

“Once I got to Japan, I wanted to come home,” she said. “I think that’s why I played so well.”

Her rookie season ends, but the work continues. Kupcho will spend part of her offseason moving to Arizona, close enough to her roots in Colorado and the headquarter of equipment sponsor Ping.

PERSPECTIVE

Brandon Matthews' initial frustration quickly turned to compassion.

Matthews needed an 8-foot birdie putt to extend a playoff in the Argentina Open when a fan yelled out in the middle of his stroke. Matthews flinched and missed the putt. He lost the playoff, which came with a spot in the British Open.

“I thought someone had done it intentionally,” Matthews told Golf Channel's website.

That's when Claudio Rivas, the tournament administrator for the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, stepped in. He told Matthews that the fan had Down syndrome and had lost control of his emotions. Matthews wanted to meet the man.

Matthews' mother managed group homes, and his best friend had a sister with Down syndrome. Rivas said Matthews' face changed and "he almost broke into tears."

“I gave him a hug and I asked him: 'Hey, are you doing OK? Are you having fun?' I just wanted to make sure he was enjoying himself, that he had no hard feelings, that he didn’t feel bad about what happened,” Matthews said. “I didn’t want to anyone to be mad at him. I didn’t want him to be mad at himself. I wanted to make sure he knew that I wasn’t mad. That’s all I wanted to do.

“Some things are bigger than golf,” he said. “And this was one of them.”

NO APOLOGIES

Rory McIlroy says he doesn’t know if he would have voted for himself or Brooks Koepka as PGA Tour player of the year, which suggests he didn’t vote or he wasn’t saying. But he felt he was worthy of the award based on consistency.

“It depends on what is important to you and for me,” McIlroy said Tuesday in Dubai.

They both had three victories. Koepka excelled in the majors, not only winning the PGA Championship for the second straight year — only Tiger Woods had done that in stroke play — but finishing second in the Masters and U.S. Open. McIlroy was rarely out of the top 10 and won the FedEx Cup.

As for the entire year, McIlroy added a World Golf Championship in Shanghai as Koepka rehabilitates a left knee injury.

“I’ve accumulated 100 more world ranking points than anyone else this year,” McIlroy said. “If you look purely by the numbers, I feel like I was deserving.”

BIG WINNER

One of 60 players at the CME Group Tour Championship will win $1.5 million, the biggest payout in women's golf.

Carlota Ciganda already has won the second-biggest prize.

With an eagle-birdie finish in two Asia swing events, Ciganda wrapped up the $1 million prize in the Aon Risk Reward Challenge.

Brooks Koepka earlier won the $1 million competition on the PGA Tour.

One hole a week was assigned as the risk-reward hole, and players kept a cumulative score throughout the season.

“It sends a powerful message for Carlota to win the Aon Risk Reward Challenge, receive the same prize money and share the title with Brooks,” LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said.

DIVOTS

Catriona Matthew is returning as European captain for the Solheim Cup. She will try to become the first European captain to win two in arrow. ... Retief Goosen led the PGA Tour Champions with a 69.14 scoring average, ending Bernhard Langer's five-year streak and becoming the seventh player to win the scoring title as a rookie. ... Lanto Griffin opened the new PGA Tour season with six straight finishes in the top 20, a streak that ended last week at Mayakoba when he tied for 76th. ... Rory McIlroy is using Ulster rugby player Niall O’Connor as his caddie in Dubai this week because the wife of caddie Harry Diamond just had their first child. “If there’s any week where I don't have Harry on the bag, it's good it's this week. I feel like I could play this place blindfolded,” he said. ... Diane Gulyas, a retired marketing executive with DuPont, has been elected chairwoman of the LPGA board of directors. Lydia Ko, Amy Olson and Alena Sharp are joining the board as player directors.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Brendon Todd is the first player to win twice in the fall since the PGA Tour went to a wraparound season in 2013.

FINAL WORD

“Hideki told me to win at professional tournaments. I am so glad that I could report him great news.” — Takumi Kanaya, who became the first amateur since Hideki Matsuyama to win on the Japan Golf Tour.