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Jennifer Kupcho rises to the top: Takeaways from Chevron Championship

Jennifer Kupcho hoists the Chevron Championship trophy, the first of her LPGA career. (Harry How/Getty Images)

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Jennifer Kupcho, for her first LPGA victory, won the 51st and final Chevron Championship by two strokes at the Dinah Shore Course on Sunday.

Here are five takeaways from the historic moment in women’s golf.

1. A mixed farewell to the Dinah Shore Course

Golf Channel commentator Jerry Foltz welcomed a Chevron executive to the stand during the trophy presentation Sunday. The fans around Poppie’s Pond, in their final act of rebellion, booed the tournament host’s representative in frustration that so much history is being left behind in Rancho Mirage.

No longer will passionate volunteers like 80-year-old Judi Callaway, who makes 1,000 roses a year sitting alongside the 18th fairway, be a constant reminder of the stories of the tournament. Nor will players walk alongside the names of all the past champions of the event, on a path culminating in a statue of Dinah Shore, the tournament’s patron saint.

First tee announcer Ron Gilgallion, who’s called players’ names for the last 24 years, summoned three-time Chevron champion Amy Alcott on Sunday. Alcott started the tradition of the winner leaping into Poppie’s Pond in 1988, and she was on hand to call out the last name ever announced on the first tee, that of last year’s champion, Patty Tavatanakit.

“It’s bittersweet, but I’m glad the LPGA, I’m glad Chevron is stepping in,” Alcott said of the moment. “I’m glad they’re doing whatever they need to do to elevate the tournament for these great players. One door closes, another door opens.”

Judy Rankin, a television broadcasting pioneer, also wrapped up her final tournament working as a lead analyst for Golf Channel. Fans peppered the outskirts of the course with signs acknowledging her history at the course.

Since the event’s inception in 1972, Rankin has been an omniscient presence as both a player and a commentator. She finished tied for second in the inaugural edition of the tournament, which Jane Blalock won, and captured the title herself in 1976.

The Hall of Famer wasn’t willing to write off the LPGA returning to Mission Hills Country Club.

“I might be sticking my foot in my mouth — I believe the best golfers in the game will be back at Mission Hills in some shape or fashion,” Rankin said Sunday as Lexi Thompson walked onto the 18th green.

An hour before Kupcho’s final tap-in putt for victory, past champions Sandra Palmer (1975), Alcott (1983, 1988, 1991), Patty Sheehan (1996) and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc (2003) gathered to take a group winners’ leap into Poppie’s Pond. It served as a culmination of Chevron’s 51 years of history as title sponsor of the tournament.

“As a past champion, it is hard,” Meunier-Lebouc said, “because we have so many memories here, and I think it is an unbelievable tournament venue, people.

“We have to recognize that what the people in the community have done is tremendous. It’s not only what we lose, it’s what the community loses. I have to trust the LPGA and the Chevron people and what they’re doing. They better do a good job. If we go away from here, it has to be something big.”

2. Jennifer Kupcho’s putter delivers Chevron Championship

Kupcho walked to the first tee Sunday with a six-shot lead over Patty Tavatanakit, with her putter delivering 10 makes over 10 feet through the first three rounds.

The trend continued during the final round, with Kupcho making back-to-back birdie putts on the fourth and fifth holes to take the turn with the same six-stroke lead at 17-under par.

The 24-year-old’s momentum stalled briefly with bogeys on 10, 13 and 14. With four holes to go, Kupcho sat at 15-under par, while Jessica Korda, a group ahead of her, hit a bunker shot to two feet above the 15th hole.

After piping a drive down the 15th fairway, Kupcho arrived at her ball with a smile. She had the exact same yardage and pin location as she did when she holed out at this point two years ago.

“To be able to have that, that’s what I thought about, and I think that is what made me hit such a good shot into 15,” Kupcho said.

“Then I was able to just coast in.”

Korda missed her short par look, and Kupcho arrived at the 18th green with cheers of “Jennifer” echoing off Poppie’s Pond.

“One of the biggest things I’ve fought over the last year and a half is everyone is out here cheering for Nelly [Korda] or Lexi [Thompson] or someone else I’m playing with,” Kupcho said after her win. “I don’t ever hear, ‘Go Jennifer.’ That was really special today to have that.”

Three years after Kupcho became the first woman to win at Augusta, when she captured the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019, she walked away Sunday as the last champion at the Dinah Shore Course. The Chevron Championship has been the LPGA’s closest equivalent to the PGA’s Masters at Augusta National, with its 51 years of history.

After Kupcho finished her press conference, she acknowledged the more than 20 girls standing outside the press room calling out, “Jennifer! Jennifer!”

After Kupcho’s performance this weekend, it’s hard to imagine those will be the last chants we hear for her.

3. Lorena Ochoa and founders earn overdue LPGA Hall of Fame induction

Last Tuesday, the LPGA announced it would remove the 10-year requirement for golfers to get into its Hall of Fame, making 27-time winner Lorena Ochoa eligible. The Mexican star is the first from her homeland to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“It’s an honor to receive this recognition,” Ochoa said. “It was unexpected and very special to me.”

The LPGA also granted an honorary bid to the eight founders not currently in the Hall of Fame — Alice Bauer, Bettye Danoff, Helen Dettwiler, Helen Hicks, Opal Hill, Sally Sessions, Marilynn Smith, and Shirley Spork. Spork, 94, was the last remaining and living founder not in the Hall of Fame.

“Getting into the LPGA Hall of Fame is the highest honor ever in our profession, so I’ve climbed the whole ladder and gotten to the top,” Spork said. “I hope I can sit up on that ladder for a few more years and enjoy it.”

Stacy Lewis, the former world No. 1, said last week that she worked behind the scenes to try to make this possible.

“Since Shirley is getting older, we needed to do it before we lose all of our founders,” Lewis said. “They should be in the LPGA Hall of Fame. Without them we wouldn’t be where we are.”

Membership expanded from 25 to 34 with the update. Under the new roles, a gold medal won at the Olympics also earns a player a point, retroactively granting points to Inbee Park from 2016 and Nelly Korda from Tokyo last summer.

Still, there are questions about whether the tour went far enough with the changes. Since the turn of the millennia, only five players have passed the 27-point benchmark to earn their way in: Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, Inbee Park and Lorena Ochoa.

4. Jin Young Ko’s historic run ends

At the end of the first round Thursday, Ko sat a stroke outside of the cut line with her first over-par card in 35 rounds, marking an LPGA-record 34 straight rounds under par. After battling back with a second-round 68 to make the cut and sit two-under par and seven behind the lead, Ko opened up about how tired she felt after the JTBC Classic.

“I think last week was a tough course, so I used lots of energy on the course, and then [it was] hilly, so my body feels a little tired,” she said Friday.

Ko, the 2021 CME Group Tour Championship winner and LPGA Player of the Year, ended up at even par for a T-53 finish at Mission Hills. The result brought her run of 10 straight top-10 finishes to an end.

Ko hasn’t broken the top 50 now in her last two major starts, with this week’s finish following a T-60 at the Amundi Evian Championship last July. The South Korean said her goal is to accomplish the career grand slam of winning all five majors, and she checked two off the list in 2019: the Chevron Championship and the Amundi Evian Championship.

The World No. 1’s next event, as of now, is the DIO Implant Open in Los Angeles starting April 21.

5. Jessica Korda knocks on the major championship door

While the No. 2 player in the world, Nelly Korda, is out indefinitely with a blood clot, her sister took up the mantle over the weekend. Jessica pushed Kupcho with a Sunday 69 to finish in second, her best result at a major championship. For a brief moment, Korda trailed Kupcho by two with four to play, but she missed a short par putt on the 15th green to fall behind.

“Second place is not bad after being 3-over through 7, so pretty proud of myself,” Korda said.

The Kordas are one of three sister pairs to win on the LPGA, joining Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam, and Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn. The tour, however, has yet to have a pair of sisters win major titles — Annika, Nelly and Ariya are the major champions of the bunch.

Jessica Korda currently has the most victories of any active LPGA player without a major title. With her second-place finish, she’s trending in the direction of making history alongside her sister.

“I’ve always been hungry. If you’re not hungry, you’re in the wrong place,” she said.

“I’ve been close a bunch of times, and sometimes it just needs to be meant to be, and currently it hasn’t been.”

Kent Paisley is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering golf and the LPGA. He also contributes to Golf Digest. Follow him on Twitter @KentPaisley.

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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