A Jennifer Kupcho major title, and a surreal final day at one of golf’s most storied tournaments
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — On the final day of the year’s first major, the golf was secondary.
The margin on the leaderboard played a role in the apathy. Jennifer Kupcho held a six-shot lead when play began, and the lead never dipped below two. The spotlight of Sunday was twofold — one on the golf, and the other on the nostalgia.
After 50 years of hosting the LPGA’s best each spring, Sunday was the final competitive round at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. Emotions were running high.
As the final twosome walked to the first tee, a Mission Hills legend joined them. Amy Alcott stood under the starter’s umbrella, taking in the moment. Longtime first-tee announcer Rich Galgallon stepped aside for the final introductions, ceding the stage to Alcott.
“He told me, ‘This is where you need to be,'” Alcott told GOLF.com.
It’s impossible to tell the story of The Dinah without Alcott. She won the event three separate times (1983, 1988, 1991) and invented the leap into Poppie’s Pond. Her mark on this tournament is indelible, and it was only fitting to have her on hand as the last players struck their opening tee shots.
“It’s bittersweet,” Alcott said. “But I’m glad Chevron is stepping up and doing whatever they need to do to elevate the tournament for these great young players. When one door shuts, another door opens.”
That’s been a common refrain during this week’s farewell tournament in the desert. The history of this tournament and venue are undeniable, but the time has come to move on. With a Fortune 500 company investing in the event, the opportunity for growth is too good to pass up. Mission Hills just happens to be a casualty.
That fact didn’t make Sunday any less somber.
“It’s just such a special place,” said Pernilla Lindberg, who won here in 2018. “I’m just really sad that we’re not coming back for this event.”
Greener pastures await. Houston is the locale, but the exact course is still unknown. It certainly won’t have Poppie’s Pond.
The ceremonial leap into the water feature adjacent to the 18th green is one of the LPGA Tour’s only long-standing traditions. The leap has been conducted by the winner annually since 1994, with Alcott making the first plunge six years prior.
On Sunday, Kupcho made that final leap.
“To be a major winner is really special,” she said. “And to be the last person here at Mission Hills to jump into Poppie’s Pond, it’s all really special.”
Kupcho cemented her place in history with a sublime Saturday performance at Mission Hills. Her third-round 64 gave her a six-shot advantage heading into the final day, and the last round was merely a formality.
Her final-round 74 was the worst score of any woman in the top 25, but with the lead she built the day prior, it was more than enough to earn her first LPGA win. She bested runner-up Jessica Korda by two.
“I came out just trying to shoot a couple under,” Kupcho said. “I had a six-stroke lead and I shot eight under [Saturday], 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.”
Three years ago, she was the first woman to win the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Now, she’s the final woman to win at Mission Hills. There are not many golfers with a more impressive set of bookends.
“It’s surreal to be able to say that I was the last person here and first person at Augusta,” she said.
Still dripping with water from Poppie’s Pond, Kupcho was presented with the trophy by Chevron executive Albert Williams. The Palm Springs crowd showered him in boos like he was Roger Goodell at the NFL Draft. This tournament is a part of them; now, it’s off to Texas.
The company line will always highlight the positives this move will have for the women’s game — more money, more exposure, a better date on the calendar — but to the people of the Coachella Valley, that’s irrelevant. There are 50 years of history at this place, and Sunday marked the final chapter.
“It’ll be a big loss,” Alcott said. “But that’s the way it is.”