NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – Jennifer Kupcho’s recent surge can, in part, be traced back to a couple changes made before the ANA Inspiration. Kupcho finished runner-up to Mel Reid at last week’s ShopRite LPGA Classic and now co-leads with World No. 3 Danielle Kang midway through the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
It was Kupcho’s parents who came up with the idea of switching back to the irons she played with in college, the Ping i210s.
“I picked up right where I left off with them,” said Kupcho, who was the top-ranked amateur in the world after winning the August National Women’s Amateur.
Kupcho also picked up a new caddie, Kyle Alexander, and said they immediately clicked. At historic Aronimink, a taxing test from start to finish, Kupcho carded a flawless 5-under 65 to vault to the top of the board at 3-under 140. Lydia Ko and Kelly Tan are tied at 2 under.
This isn’t Kupcho’s first run at a major. Not long after the Wake Forest grad turned professional midseason last year, Kupcho fired a 66 in the final round of the Evian Championship and tied for second.
The results of these past two weeks certainly wouldn’t point toward someone who felt unprepared. However Kupcho said she felt like her game wasn’t ready for this type of golf course at the start of the week. She played each nine only once before Thursday because being in contention at ShopRite took so much out of her.
She also saw the tour physio for a back injury that flared up last week but has thankfully disappeared.
“I think not being prepared brings another challenge for me,” she said, “and I think that’s what helps me play well.”
Kang, who shot 1-under 69, also relishes a good challenge. There’s simply no time to let her mind rest at Aronimink, where she’s the top-ranked player after No. 2 Nelly Korda withdrew with a back injury.
“There is no right shot,” she said of the creative options, “but there are wrong misses.”
Speaking of imagination, Kang pretended she was in a putting contest with her brother, Alex, on the 12th hole and drained a 15-footer for birdie. Earlier while walking down the fairway, Kang pictured her putts on the previous 11 holes and determined that she’d missed it short and low on every hole. She decided to hit the next one long and high and immediately converted.
“I never try and fix anything,” she said, “but if there’s a consistent mistake then I need to kind of adjust. I think the greens were running a little bit slower than yesterday.”
Kang often turns to Google to map out golf courses before she sees them for the first time. The homework typically continues throughout the week. When hole locations come out around 9 p.m. each night, she plugs them in and checks the wind.
On Wednesday evening, Kang said she played the difficult par-3 eighth hole probably seven times in her mind trying to decide if she needed 4-iron or hybrid.
Two-time major winner Brittany Lincicome won’t be checking out any hole locations tonight.
“That’s just too much,” she said, laughing.
She’ll step on the first tee and take it from there, with a mind to be more aggressive.
Lincicome, who stands at 1 under for the tournament, admitted to not sticking to the game plan on Friday, a round in which she had 16 pars and two bogeys. There was too much lolly-gagging Friday morning, as she tried to get a feel for how the day might go. She has vowed not to do the same over the weekend.
“I’m just going to go out guns blazing,” she said.