After a decorated career at Everett High School and Western Washington University — and a couple years pursuing a spot on the PGA Tour — Jake Koppenberg decided it was time to focus on other areas of his life, and he stepped away from competitive golf.
He got married and settled into a full-time job in business development.
But golf would not relinquish its hold on him.
“I just felt like I was wasting the one thing I was the best at,” Koppenberg said. “About four or five years ago, I started working on my game a little bit more, playing more tournaments and that’s when I started to find a little bit more success than I had the previous years. It was just kind of a realization that I might have a good 15 years left of good, competitive amateur golf, and I didn’t want to waste it.”
No longer chasing his PGA dream, Koppenberg has found success playing in United States Golf Association (USGA) amateur events around the country, most recently advancing to the quarterfinals of the 2019 Mid-Amateur Championship at Colorado Golf Club in September.
Koppenberg, 32, played in his first U.S. Amateur Championship in 2008 when he was still at Western Washington and has participated in three of the past five U.S. amateurs, most recently at Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill Golf Course in California in 2018. The only time he’s made the cut was in 2008, when he was knocked out in the round of 32 by eventual PGA star Ricky Fowler.
While playing in the U.S. Amateur may be more prestigious, Koppenberg has enjoyed most of his recent success at the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships. After being knocked out in the round of 64 in 2018 at Charlotte Country Club and Carolina Golf Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, he advanced to the quarterfinals in 2019, losing in match play to the eventual champion, Lukas Michel.
Koppenberg was close to making it to the semifinals. After a pair of bogeys and a double bogey left him at a four-hole deficit against Michel, Koppenberg surged back to force a playoff after winning four of the last five holes with a birdie-eagle-birdie-par-par stretch.
Both players birdied the first playoff hole, a 652-yard par-5, but Koppenberg bogeyed the 145-yard par-3 second playoff hole and Michel collected a par to advance.
“It was windy, I got down a few holes and he was playing well, too — he’s a very good player,” Koppenberg said. “I just dug myself a bit of a hole.”
While he’s never made it past stroke play at the U.S. Amateur, those experiences helped immensely.
“I think playing in the last few U.S. Amateurs and being comfortable on that bigger stage — not that the mid-ams are any smaller — but you’re playing against those current top collegiate players, some of the best players in the world,” Koppenberg said. “(In the mid-ams) you’re playing against guys that are at least 25 years old and probably have a job. … I feel like I can compete with those college guys, and now going against some of those guys on the same playing field as me, with age and a working person, I feel like I have an advantage. I feel confident when I go to those tournaments I can compete and win them.”
Since Koppenberg made the cut for the 2019 tournament, he’s automatically qualified for the 2020 Mid-Amateur, which takes place Sept. 12-17 at the Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Virginia.
What’s allowing Koppenberg to play so well? First of all, he’s a great ball striker — always has been — which provides him the opportunity to play a “boring round of golf.”
“On tough days and tough courses, I feel like I can out-ball strike most people, hit it on the fairways, hit it on the greens, not put a lot of pressure on my game to get up and down and scramble all day,” Koppenberg said. “Just two-putt for par and play kind of a boring round of golf. That’s kind of what I’ve hung my hat on the last few years. It’s not really exciting, but I’m not putting a lot of stress on my game.”
He’s also enlisted Jessyca Arthur-Cameselle, a sport psychology professor at WWU, to help him with the mental side of the game.
“(I’m) just being more patient and confident that I’m good enough, that I don’t have to push when things maybe aren’t going that great,” Koppenberg said. “That I don’t have to try harder than I’m already currently trying. That’s helped me a lot, just not to get antsy or frustrated.”
While at Western, Koppenberg was a first-team All-American his senior year in 2009 and finished 12th place at the NCAA Division II Championships. After graduation, he attended the PGA qualifying school, but fell short of earning his tour card. He played a few years on the Gateway Tour.
He stepped away from golf for a couple years to focus on his job. He’s based out of Bellingham and is a volunteer golf coach for the Vikings and has a 2-year-old son.
Now that golf is just a hobby that he’s incredibly talented at, things are in a better perspective.
“I’ve gotten the chance to play some really cool courses and having some success at those USGA events has opened up some other gateways also,” Koppenberg said. “It’s been fun. I’m lucky enough to have a little free time and flexibility with my work schedule and my wife has been a rock star while taking care of the household while I’m away.”