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Exhausted Kupcho accomplishes goal, ready for break

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NAPLES, Fla. – The goal for Jennifer Kupcho was to get to the CME Group Tour Championship. Now that she’s here, a big part of her can’t wait for it to end.

Even for a 22-year-old fresh out of college, Kupcho has every reason to be worn out.

“I’m looking forward to the end of the tournament,” Kupcho said. “I’m excited to play in it. It was my goal after I made it into Asia events, to get into the CME. But I’m definitely tired.”

An NCAA champion as a junior, Kupcho is best known for her back-nine charge to win the Augusta National Women’s Amateur the Saturday before the Masters. The performance was so memorable that Golf Channel has produced a one-hour retrospective to be shown Nov. 26.

Equally impressive is what brought her to Tiburon Golf Club.

Kupcho qualified for the LPGA tour last year and deferred her membership until she finished her career at Wake Forest. She was No. 700 in the women’s world ranking when she made her pro debut May 30 at the U.S. Women’s Open.

That was the start of 18 tournaments over the next five months, one fewer event than Nelly Korda played all year. The only tournament Kupcho missed was a 54-hole event in Arkansas. She also got a three-week break in September around the Solheim Cup.

While she didn’t win, Kupcho had enough big weeks – mostly her runner-up finish in the final major, the Evian Championship – to make just over $500,000, be No. 38 in the 60-player field at the Tour Championship and move to No. 52 in the world.

The hardest part?

“The stress of wanting to get my card back and having such little time to do it,” Kupcho said. “My body got tired very quickly. I wasn’t used to playing that much.”

Adding to the difficulty were all the new courses to learn. Kupcho routinely would play a practice round on Tuesday followed by the pro-am, meaning she spent six out of seven days on the golf course for 18 weeks.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that two of her best finishes – a tie for fifth in the Marathon Classic and a tie for second at Evian – were tournaments she had played before as an amateur. Her other top-10 was two weeks ago when she tied for fourth at the Toto Japan Classic. She attributed that to fatigue, having played all four events on the Asia swing to assure a spot in Naples.

“Once I got to Japan, I wanted to come home,” she said. “I think that’s why I played so well.”

Her rookie season ends, but the work continues. Kupcho will spend part of her offseason moving to Arizona, close enough to her roots in Colorado and the headquarter of equipment sponsor Ping.

Doug Ferguson is a golf writer for The Associated Press.