Stupples relishing transition from playing to television
Karen Stupples is one happy woman.
The two-time LPGA champion is living a dream working as a member of Golf Channel’s LPGA broadcast team, and the TV work has enabled her to make a seamless transition from full-time Tour player to a second career in pro golf. The 41-year-old from Dover, Kent, England, played her final event at the RICOH Women’s British Open a couple weeks ago and is ready to make the change to full-time television commentator for the burgeoning cable network.
I ran into her at the International Crown media center and spent quite a bit of time chatting with her about the new endeavor. Stupples relishes the chance to stay so close to the game she loves through the Golf Channel gig, and she has been surprised by how much she’s enjoyed the work.
“I really love it, and I’ve been so lucky to have an opportunity with Golf Channel,” said Stupples, who joined the LPGA Tour in 1999. “I’m so lucky because I really love what I’m doing now, more so than playing golf, actually. This, to me, is more fun than playing golf.
“I love golf and playing tournament golf, but this is something completely different.”
Stupples initially got a taste for doing commentary through the British Broadcasting Company in 2007 at the Open Championship at Carnoustie and enjoyed the experience immensely. Then, last year after missing the cut at the Marathon Classic Presented by Owens Corning and OI outside Toledo, Ohio, Golf Channel gave Stupples an opportunity to be an on-course reporter for the rest of the weekend.
“I ended up doing my first interview, which was with Inbee Park,” Stupples said. “I remember feeling incredibly nervous about doing that. It’s all fine and well talking golf, but it’s out of your comfort zone when you have to interview the players.
“It was a good thing to do, because I could prove to myself that I was going to be able to do it.”
Stupples did a few more tournaments and studio work with the network and broadcast some reports from the Solheim Cup in Colorado in September, and she was hooked. Being a commentator is a natural release valve for the talkative Brit.
“When I watch golf, I always have a commentary going on in my head anyway, so it was a bit of an outlet for me, which was awesome,” she said. “This gives me and my brain a natural outlet for what’s going on in it. I have a very busy head and busy brain, and it’s nice to not have to dampen it down.”
Stupples put together an impressive playing career, earning more than $3.9 million while racking up 32 top-10 finishes and two victories. Those came in 2004, when she won the Welch’s/Fry’s Championship and captured a major title at the Weetabix Women’s British Open, and she went on to become a two-time European Solheim Cup Team member (2005, 2011).
But her performance fell off in recent years, and the weekly grind of the Tour began to be a drain on the veteran.
“I want to be the best I can be with everything I do, and that’s part of the reason I don’t want to play tournament golf anymore,” said Stupples, who has one son, Logan James. “I’m not capable of being the best I can be anymore, and that ship has kind of sailed. I was used to competing and winning, and now I’m not.”
Stupples’ 10-year exemption to play in the Women’s British ran out this year, so it was an emotional experience when she teed it up for the last time earlier this month at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, Lancashire.
“It was really quite an emotional thing to think about the journey, and it was the journey I was really thinking about as I was playing those last nine holes,” Stupples said. “On the 10th green, I got pretty emotional, and it came back and got me pretty bad on the 18th green. I could barely see my putt, and the tears were flowing.
“It was both relief that it was (over) and I would never have the agony of a three-foot miss or a three-putt again – and I was very happy I wouldn’t have to feel the agony anymore – but it was also part sad that I wouldn’t be making the walk up to a cheering gallery again. I stood back, and I realized I was OK with it.”
The fact that Stupples has been at peace with the life change has helped with the transition.
“I’m quite happy with that being my last one,” she said. “It’s closing one chapter and opening another, and it really felt like that. I had a fantastic career, and I really exceeded expectations I had for myself.”
She can remember a moment in 2013 when she knew TV was what she wanted to do in the future.
“I got to the British Open and was playing, and I got on the first tee and thought, ‘You know what? I’d much rather be doing TV,’” she said. “That was it, and that little slice of it in Toledo was really what said, ‘This is really where you want to be.’”
Being able to learn from Hall of Famer Judy Rankin and Golf Channel’s other talented commentators has been a treat for Stupples, who wants to soak up knowledge like a sponge.
“I try and talk to as many people as I can and try to get as much advice as I can,” she said. “Obviously, Judy (Rankin) is a fantastic example for me to try and follow, because she’s done it incredibly well and does it in a very classy fashion. There’s a lot of stuff I admire about Jerry Foltz and what he does, too, and I really appreciate the advice I get from him.”
Naturally, she has her own style, and Stupples considers the viewers at home while asking questions.
“I’m at the point now where, because I’m curious enough, I ask the questions I think people back home would want to ask,” she said. “I try to make it interesting.”
Tour players know and trust Stupples, which helps in getting quality, honest answers on camera.
“They know me, they know I’m a good person and that I’m not out to hurt anybody, but there are questions people want answers to and I’m going to try and ask them in the most respectful way I possibly can,” Stupples said. “I understand, and I think they know I understand because of my history.”
She is fully committed to her work as a television commentator.
“I’m channeling all of my energy into this, and I want to be the best I can be at this,” Stupples said. “If I can’t give golf 100 percent, I’m quite happy to stand on the sidelines and talk about it instead. I don’t want to have to put a score on a scorecard anymore. I just want to enjoy the game.”
Stupples certainly is having a blast along the way.
“I’ve got to be the luckiest woman in the world, because I’ve had my dream job once playing professional golf on the LPGA Tour – people would give their right arm to be able to do that – and now I have the opportunity for my second dream job,” Stupples said. “I’m so lucky.”