AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jennifer Kupcho was standing on the eighth green Saturday at Augusta National, tied for the lead in arguably the biggest tournament of her career, when she felt the migraine coming.
By the time Kupcho stepped on the ninth tee box, her untimely headache worsened. The pain sharpened. Her vision blurred. And her playing competitor, Maria Fassi, had just birdied to take a one-shot lead with 10 holes left in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
“From [straight ahead] over to the left, I just couldn’t see,” Kupcho said.
But Kupcho’s focus, shockingly, never waned.
The 21-year-old hasn’t had a migraine pop up on the golf course in a few years, but in high school she constantly battled the severe headaches, which would derail her rounds. Eventually, she learned to handle the migraines. She even won a regional title as a high school senior despite them. The remedy, as it turned out, was simple: Caffeine pills.
Only Saturday she didn’t have any pills. No, she had to get through the symptoms with grit and determination.
“I just told myself, ‘Hey, you got it. Relax. There’s nothing you can do,’” Kupcho said. “And I think going through my head, I just knew that the blurriness would go away, and then I know it just comes with a bad headache after, so I was going to be able to recover.”
She also relied heavily on her local caddie, Brian McKinley, who subbed in for Kupcho’s dad, Michael, for the all-important final round at Augusta National. With Kupcho’s vision so blurred that the top-ranked amateur was unable to see the line drawn on her golf ball, McKinley calculated Kupcho’s carry numbers and guided her on the greens.
Full-field scores from the Augusta National Women’s Amateur
“I said, ‘I can’t see anything, so just tell me where to hit it,’” Kupcho said.
While Kupcho managed to par the ninth hole, she three-putted No. 10 to drop to 5 under, two shots behind Fassi. The 3-foot miss snapped a streak of 110 straight holes without a three-putt.
But after she teed off on the par-4 11th hole, Kupcho’s vision suddenly cleared. As she approached Amen Corner, her prayers had been answered. Then Kupcho answered the bell.
She delivered a masterful performance on Augusta National’s second nine, hitting a 3-hybrid 211 yards to 6 feet at the par-5 13th hole and making the eagle – the only one of the round – to tie Fassi at 7 under. Two holes later, at the par-5 15th, Kupcho again went for the green in two, hooking the same hybrid around the trees and onto the back fringe. She then two-putted for birdie to tie the lead again.
“That’s the kind of player she is; she’ll do that when she has to,” Fassi said. “That’s one of the things I admire and respect most about her. She’s not afraid of going for it. She’s not afraid to be great, and that’s what makes her great.”
Kupcho added birdies at Nos. 16 and 18 to play the final six holes in 5 under and win by four shots with a 10-under total.
“I’ve always told her,” Michael Kupcho said, “when she was growing up that in golf, there are no vacation days and there are no sick days.”
But there are days like the one Kupcho experienced Saturday at Augusta National, where she proved herself as the world’s best amateur and earned a place in golf history with her name becoming the first to be engraved on the winner’s trophy of this landmark event.
Oh, what a feeling.