Video: Jennifer Kupcho wins 2022 Chevron Championship, takes final plunge at Mission Hills

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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.

MORE GOLF COVERAGE: Wake Forest golfers turn Augusta National Women’s Amateur into legacy experience

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.

DIVOTS: Chella Choi earned a BMW iX with a hole-in-one on the par-3 17th. She used a 4-hybrid on the 181-yard hole. Choi shot a 71 to tie for 53rd at even par. Pernilla aced the 166-yard fifth with a 7-iron. The 2018 winner also shot 71 to finish at even par. … Brooke Seay, the Stanford junior who turned down a spot at Augusta to play the final event at Mission Hills, was the only one of the four amateurs to make the cut. She finished with a 73 to tie for 65th at 2 over.

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.