Jennifer Kupcho sweeps Michigan LPGA titles in 2022, finds chemistry with Lizette Salas at Dow

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Midland, Mich. — If our state ever goes shopping for a new "Pure Michigan" narrator, Jennifer Kupcho might just have what it takes.

Kupcho earned her second LPGA win in Michigan in barely a month, teaming with Lizette Salas, a winner for the first time in eight long years, the duo dominating the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational team tournament at Midland Country Club. Kupcho and Salas fired a 9-under 61 during the final round Saturday, to finish the week at 26 under, good for a five-stroke win.

They held off several hard-charging teams, including Stacy Lewis and Dow ambassador Maria Fassi, who closed with a final-round 59, and the Korda sisters, Nelly and Jessica, who finished with a 60.

Jennifer Kupcho, left, and Lizette Salas show off their championship trophies.

For Kupcho, 25, this marks her third LPGA win, all this season, the first being a major — the Chevron in April — and the second coming last month just outside of Grand Rapids, where she won the Meijer LPGA Classic in a playoff. With Saturday's win, she becomes the first golfer to win multiple tour events in Michigan in the same year since Roger Chapman won the Senior PGA and Senior U.S. Open in 2012, at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor and Indianwood in Lake Orion, respectively. 

"I sure do," Kupcho said during the closing ceremony on the 18th green, tearing up when asked about enjoying playing golf in Michigan. "It's always been so comfortable for me."

Kupcho is the first three-time winner on the LPGA this season.

For Salas, the Dow was her second LPGA win, and first since Kingsmill in May 2014 — a span of eight years, one month and 28 days. Her best finish on tour this season had been a tie for 16th.

"It's been a long time, and I couldn't have done it without her," Salas said, nodding to Kupcho. "It's been a long journey, lots of ups and downs. It's a great early birthday present for me, so thank you."

Salas turns 33 on Sunday.

The duo, named "Youth on Course" after a favorite charity, were playing together in the Dow for the first time, reviving their successful pairing from last fall's Solheim Cup group in Toledo. At the Solheim Cup, Kupcho, up to No. 9 in the world rankings, and Salas were a rare partnership that thrived in Team Europe's resounding victory. There, they won two of their three matches, and halved the other.

"They developed a really good chemistry last year, to the point, the first match they played together last year, they came off the golf course and said, 'Do not break us up,'" said Lewis, an assistant captain in 2021, and the head Solheim Cup captain in 2023.

"I was excited to see that they had decided to play with each other again."

Lizette Salas, left, and Jennifer Kupcho enjoy some bubbly after sealing their victory at the LPGA's Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland on Saturday.

Interestingly, Salas and Kupcho barely even knew each other before the Solheim Cup last fall at Inverness, but got placed in a four-person pod together, drew the first match together — and the chemistry was there, just as it was during the week at Dow. Salas pointed out, the duo remains undefeated. Lewis even stood nearby at the bridge as they walked to the 18th green.

This tournament wasn't match play, like the Solheim, but used similar formats, including alternate shot in the first and third rounds (68 and 64) and best ball the second and fourth rounds (61 and 61). They took a four-shot lead into the final round, and no team ever got closer than two strokes off the lead all day Saturday. Once Kupcho and Salas made the turn, no team got within four.

"I think it started off with no music in the car," Salas said, asked to describe the excitement level of their round Saturday, "and then toward the end, we were head-banging, really enjoying the moment.

"It was fun coming down the stretch."

Lewis and Fassi got within two strokes early in Saturday's round, with six birdies in their first seven holes, and the Kordas got within two, as well, as they were a scorching 9 under through 12 holes. Each time, Salas quickly birdied to push the lead to three shots. Then, after a birdie by Kupcho at the par-3 seventh and another birdie by Salas at the par-4 eighth, the lead was five, and the rest was a breeze.

After Nelly Korda eagled the short par-4 12th to get to 9 under — she hit her tee shot right at the stick and nearly aced it, before making the 20-foot right-to-left putt coming back — they parred five straight to halt the comeback momentum. Nelly Korda hit it to 3 feet at the 18th for a birdie to cap a 10-under 60, 17 under for the tourney — even-par in alternate shot, 17 under on best ball. On her own Saturday, Nelly Korda shot 61.

They finished tied for sixth.

Matilda Castren and Kelly Tan finished in second place alone at 21 under after a 61. They birdied five straight to start the back nine, and birdied the 18th when Castren nearly made an ace.

"We're not going to Burger King tonight!" a friend of Castren and Tan's shouted as they walked to the clubhouse following their round.

Lewis and Fassi finished third at 20 under, after an 11-birdie 59 Saturday — matching the lone round of the week. It was Lewis' best finish since her last win, at the Scottish Open in August 2020.

Cheyenne Knight and Elizabeth Szokol tied for fourth at 19 under after a 61, with Tiffany Chan and Haeji King after a 62. Narin An and Hye-Jin Choi tied for sixth at 18 under, after a 61, with Pauline Roussin and Dewi Weber, who finished with 63.

Nelly Korda plays her approach shot on the fifth hole Saturday in Midland.

Both World Golf Hall of Famers in the field made the cut — Karrie Webb, 47, playing with Marina Alex and tying for 15th at 15 under, and Annika Sorenstam, 51, playing with Madelene Sagstrom, tying for 28th at 11 under. Sorenstam and Sagstrom actually were in the lead after the opening round in Midland, a first for Sorenstam on the LPGA since she retired in 2008.

Webb and Sorenstam, reviving their competitive careers a bit while refusing to use the "comeback" word, will tee it up next week at the Senior LPGA Championship in Kansas, for women 45 years and older.

"I love this format," Sorenstam said. "We don't get a chance to play team, and actually I really don't play that much, so to play team was really fun.

"It's just great to be out here."

Kupcho, of Colorado, and Salas, of California, will split the first prize of $607,620. That check pushes Salas, ranked No. 40 in the world, past $7 million in career earnings.

Kupcho and Salas shared a long embrace after closing with a par, finishing one off the tournament scoring record. No matter. The celebration was officially on, as fellow LPGA players sprayed them with champagne before they signed their scorecards. Salas grabbed one of the bottles and took a big swig. A bagpipe group played on the 18th green before the closing ceremony, with speakers blaring Queen's "We are the Champions," then Kool and the Gang's "Celebration," as Kupcho and Salas hoisted their glass trophies for all to see.

This was the third playing of the Dow, which debuted in 2019 and was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic. This week, the LPGA extended its deal with the Great Lakes Bay Invitational through 2029, thanks to a successful early run at Midland, which features large galleries, dancing and loud music behind the island 18th green, where each team is greeted by its hand-picked walk-up song.

"I was a little nervous coming into today, just because I didn't want to let her down," Kupcho said. "In the end, I think it really calmed us down to have each other by our sides. It's really amazing."

The Dow ended on a Saturday, rather than the traditional Sunday, to allow players an extra travel day to get to France, site of the next week's LPGA major, the Evian Championship. Yet another major, the women's British Open, is two weeks after the Evian, in Scotland. That's a long way from home.

Then again, so is Michigan for many of the players — not that it feels that way these days for Kupcho.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984