Three Americans are in the mix after Day 1 of the ISPS Handa World Invitational. Jennifer Kupcho birdied four of her last five holes to shoot a 7-under 66 and co-lead with South Korea’s Chella Choi and Scotland’s Gemma Dryburg. Golf felt “easy” for Emma Talley, who stands one shot behind the early leaders, and Sarah Burnham’s “don’t mess up” mentality proved successful, finishing at 5 under and two shots back.
“I actually walked off the first hole making 5 and thinking I was 1 over,” said Kupcho, referring Galgorm Castle Golf Club’s par-73 course setup. “I didn't realize it until I looked at the scorecard.”
The ISPS Handa World Invitational is hosting two tournaments simultaneously – one for the men and one for the women, who are competing on the same golf courses and for equal prize money of $1.175 million. This tournament format allowed Kupcho to rekindle her friendship with old teammate and Irish golfer Paul McBride. “He went to Wake Forest,” said Kupcho, who attended college with McBride. “It's cool to see different guys that you don't see every day.”
Talley, who started off the 2021 LPGA Tour season by missing five cuts in a row, made a run at the Volunteers of America Classic a few weeks ago with her opening round of 65 and T-4 finish. This week, she’s back in the mix and credits her new sports psychologist, Paul Dewland.
“I actually used a couple of his methods out there on the last nine holes,” said Talley following her round. “He's kind of given me my confidence back and stop looking at everyone else and just pay attention to myself.”
Burnham, meanwhile, made a long putt for birdie on No. 17 that freaked her out a bit. “I was like, Oh, my gosh, I'm at 5 under. I kind of got to the stage where I was like, don't mess up, and then [on the next hole] I put it in the fairway bunker,” she said. Burnham barely got her second shot out of the bunker. A poor third shot left her 92 yards for a difficult up-and-down on the par-5 18th. “I miraculously hit it to 5 feet and made the putt to save for par," she said.
Kupcho is the highest ranked American of the three women, with a Rolex Ranking of No. 27. Both Burnham and Talley are outside of the top 200. This is Burnham’s third year on tour. In 2020, she only made two cuts out of her 10 tournaments and Talley has struggled to see the success she believes she can achieve. But setbacks have yet to stop these players from working towards their dream – becoming an LPGA winner.
“I just want to like go out and play every shot, one by one, and just hopefully have the opportunities to make some putts again,” said Burnham.
“I've been working really hard,” said Talley, “and not just with my game but also my mental game, and just trusting that it's all working. Hopefully, a few good weeks over here.”
Kupcho has finished second a couple of times, including the 2019 Evian Championship, but she’s still waiting on a win. “It's super nice to be able to get on to the green and trust a putt,” she said. “Hopefully, putts will keep falling tomorrow.”