RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — For the second time in just over a month, Jennifer Kupcho is teaming up.
Six weeks after tying the knot in mid-February, the American shot a par 66 six-under in the first round of the Chevron Championship to sit tied for the lead with Friday’s entry Minjee Lee. Kupcho arrived there grouped alongside her Solheim Cup teammate and close friend Lizette Salas, who attended her wedding in mid-February. After hugging on the 18th hole, Salas asked Kupcho to be his teammate at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, the LPGA Tour’s team event in July, writing the question on her scorecard.
Kupcho immediately agreed and the friends walked arm in arm to the goalscorer’s tent.
“After this performance,” Salas said, “I won’t miss an opportunity to ask him.”
Kupcho’s work with his other partner, husband Jay Monahan, who is a caddy on the LPGA Tour, fueled his performance of nine birdies on Thursday, including four consecutive birdies from the 11th to 14th hole. During their practice, they focused on making sure Kupcho takes her putter straight both ways, compared to when she cut the ball, to get more consistent results.
“I worked a lot on my putt,” Kupcho explained. “I mean, like everyone says, my putt is not my forte.”
She took advantage of the pure greens at the Dinah Shore course on Thursday with 24 putts, matching her career low from the first round of the 2021 ISPS Handa World Invitational and the second round of the 2019 Taiwan Swinging Skirts.
“I think it’s just being comfortable on this golf course,” Kupcho said, “I come here and I feel comfortable. I love this place. Then playing with Lizette, who is my good friend, it was just comfortable and really fun.
The camaraderie of the golfers was evident throughout the round. On the 16th hole, Salas, who averaged 18 yards shorter off the tee than Kupcho, edged him a few yards. Salas turned to the gallery and said, “Hey, I just beat her,” to laughter and applause from the fans, and she remained cheerful in Thursday’s two-over-par shot.
When they teamed up at the Solheim Cup, Salas, known for his putting ability, entrusted Kupcho with reading the greens at Inverness.
On Thursday, the greens and scenery of the Dinah Shore course also comforted Kupcho on his first round. The layout and looming San Jacinto mountain range remind the 24-year-old of desert golf in Colorado, where she grew up, and Arizona, where she now lives.
“Just to see the same kind of grass and stuff like that,” Kupcho said, “it’s just a comfort to me.”
Even after missing the cut last week at the JTBC Classic, the pressure of major championships brings out the best in Kupcho. Salas, who described Kupcho at the Solheim Cup as someone with icy water in his veins, credits his spirited approach as the driving force behind his success.
“She was a core part of our team, our duo, and we complement each other very well,” Salas said. “She’s a fierce competitor. You can just say. She hates doing bogey. It bounces right after. That’s how she is.
Kupcho’s competitiveness has fueled her at some of the most important events in women’s golf. In 2019, Kupcho outlasted 2019 NCAA Individual Champion Maria Fassi in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Then Kupcho climbed the standings with a closing 66 at the 2019 Evian Championship, the fourth major on the LPGA schedule, to finish tied for second in the best major performance of his career. In Kupcho’s first Solheim Cup last summer, she went 2-0-1 as a team alongside Salas.
Now, as she sits atop the standings on Day 2 of the Chevron Championship, she is in a position to claim to be the first American to win the event since Brittany Lincicome in 2015.
“I admire him,” Salas said. “Even though I’m a ten-year veteran, he’s someone I look up to. His game is awesome. That’s on point.
Kent Paisley is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports covering golf and the LPGA. He also contributes to Golf Digest. Follow him on Twitter @KentPaisley.