CHARLESTON, S.C. – They’re back. And this time, they’re playing together for at least two rounds of the 74th U.S. Women’s Open. Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi, rock stars of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, make their highly-anticipated professional debuts on Thursday at 8:28 a.m. local time at the Country Club of Charleston.
Yes, they’re good enough right now to contend. And no, what happened at Augusta wasn’t fake.
“I think everyone, all the fans, all the world wanted to see Maria and I play together again,” said Kupcho, “and I think a lot of people think that we were just putting on an act.”
Playing together and alongside Florida senior Sierra Brooks will relieve some of the pressure this week. All three have previous experience at the Women’s Open. Fassi played in 2015 and 2018 and missed the cut both times. Kupcho qualified in 2016 and 2017 and took a share of 21st the second time. Brooks missed the cut in 2016.
It’s not just that Fassi and Kupcho are playing for money now. Both LPGA rookies have a limited amount of time to earn enough money to keep their cards for 2019, and this week’s $5.5 million purse is the largest on tour. A strong week here can go a long way toward securing status.
Both Kupcho and Fassi competed on this Seth Raynor gem at the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur. Kupcho missed the cut while Fassi fell to eventual champion Emma Talley in the Round of 16 on the 19th hole.
Kupcho’s memory of the place isn’t particularly sunny: “I remember the course being really long, and every hole was into the wind.”
Fassi, on the other hand, was reliving her highlights during the practice round.
“We were walking in our practice rounds with my caddie, and I was like ‘Hey, on 15 I holed out for eagle to win a hole,’ ” said Fassi. “So I was like, ‘Hey, this is where I holed out from. Or I made this long putt on 17.’ ”
While Kupcho, 22, has yet to sign with an agency, the 21-year-old Fassi went with IMPACT point, whose clients include Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and Louis Oosthuizen. She’s the only LPGA player on their roster.
“They speak Spanish, which is huge for me and my family,” said Fassi, “and I know a lot of players are super happy with them.”
Fassi has veteran caddie Gary Matthews on the bag this week. Matthew has previously caddied for Garcia, Luke Donald, Lydia Ko and Minjee Lee.
She has yet to sign any deals, but the ANWA and her recent NCAA title certainly created a spike in interest.
“‘The Today Show,’ ‘The Tonight Show,’ like all those things have been huge for me these last few months,” said Fassi. “Luckily my golf has kind of followed with the exposure that I had on TV and on social media, and it’s definitely been huge for me now that I’m a professional.”
Even so, Fassi said it doesn’t feel real yet.
Kupcho has her father, Mike, on the bag this week. She has yet to settle on an agent but did sign an equipment contract with Ping. She’ll play a minimum of 11 Ping clubs, including a driver and putter. She’ll have Ping on her hat and will carry a Ping Tour staff bag. She also signed with Titleist/FootJoy.
Kupcho was the No.1 amateur in the world when she turned professional. She’d won an NCAA title and etched her name in history on a glorious day at Augusta National.
Asked what she’d learned that will help her the most in this next chapter, Kupcho said resilience.
“I mean, I just go out there, and I always tend to have something happen at the beginning of the round,” she said, “and I always just somehow come back. I think that’s really how my game is, just to keep fighting, no matter what, and I think that’s what I’ve learned the most.”