In an era often dominated by teen LPGA pros, it would be easy to think that players in their late 30s might be calling it quits. But not for tour veteran Karen Stupples, who seems to just be hitting her stride.
At 38, Stupples recently completed her 13th LPGA season, played on her second European Solheim Cup team in September and traveled on tour with her family in tow. The native of Great Britain credits veteran tour-mom Juli Inkster for showing others how to rear a family while playing world-class golf.
“Juli Inkster is really my role model because she achieved success after having kids,” said Stupples, who travels the LPGA Tour with her son, Logan, now 4 ½, and her caddie/husband Bobby Inman. “It’s still hard work. Logan is getting older, so it’s a lot easier now, but we’ve pretty much gone for three years on no sleep.”
Maybe the oft-cited golfer’s adage should include “beware of the sleep-deprived golfer.” If Stupples has sleepwalked her way through the 2011 season, then she has done it convincingly with two top-10 finishes and seven top-20s, including a tie for 15th at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open.
She also earned $397,081 in 29 tournaments this year to boost her career earnings to more than $3.8 million. And she played well enough to qualify for the elite-field, season-ending CME Group Titleholders.
Looking ahead at 2012, the long hitter still has big future plans on the LPGA Tour with her little nomadic family. While Logan is a regular in the LPGA’s childcare facility, his mom is the quietly effective pro who competes under the radar on a regular basis. She’s not flashy or demonstrative, but she gets the job done.
“I’d like to play for another 10 years,” said Stupples, whose two career wins include the RIO Women’s British Open. “I hit it plenty far enough, so length is not a problem. I think that’s the thing that stops people from playing -- when they lose distance and can’t keep up. I make a lot of eagles and birdies, so that certainly helps.”
In fact, Stupples led the LPGA in eagles with 12 this year. She also has the distinction as being only the second player in history to record a double-eagle at an LPGA major championship. She accomplished that feat en route to her win at the 2004 Weetabix Women’s British Open, where, trailing by one shot, she opened her final round with an eagle and double-eagle on the first two holes. She won by five shots with birdies on three of the last four holes for a final-round 64 in front of her countrymen.
While Stupples was pleased with her consistency this season, she believes a sense of complacency has to be shaken up a bit as she enters the new year.
“All year, I’ve been right there, finishing somewhere around 30th -- sometimes better, not often worse,” she said. “I’ve become kind of happy with that.”
But Stupples wants more. And she plans to make some improvements in her game to take another big step in 2012.
“I think I’m a much better player than I was in 2004 – definitely a much better putter,” said Stupples, who recorded eight top-10 finishes and two wins in her career-best season. “I need to continue the progress I’ve made this year, but improve my putting to be more consistent.”
Stupples changed coaches earlier this spring and they went to work, focusing not only on technique, but also on helping the mom become more patient with herself.
“One of the things we are working on is helping me get my head back on,” said Stupples. “I need to stay more patient on the golf course.”
That might sound like an unusual statement coming from someone who has to have a boatload of patience each day just to balance her life as a mother, wife, golfer and world traveler. And Stupples has her own theory about the virtues of patience.
“I think you can only have so much patience in a day,” she said. “It’s like waking up with 10 patience tokens and asking yourself, ‘What am I going to spend my tokens on today?’ I really try to be patient on the golf course, but I also know I’m going to need it off the course for Logan.”
For Stupples, patience on the golf course often comes down to losing focus during a round and posting a lackluster nine-hole score. When that happens, she has to fight to salvage the round, which puts more pressure on her game.
“When I have nine bad holes here and there, that’s what is stopping me from moving into a top-10 place on a regular basis,” she added. “My offense is there, but I need to eliminate the cruddy play. And if I become comfortable where I am -- just making the cut and finishing between No. 9-35 -- I won’t improve. My goal for 2012 is to finish more tournaments between first and tenth, and eventually, between first and fifth.”
Admittedly, the long season of travel and the extra demands of having a family on the road require tremendous energy. She and her family plan to spend the month of December recharging for 2012. They are enjoying time at their U.S. home in Orlando, Fla., and will also visit family back home in England.
“The amount of travel we’ve done this year has been excessive and I know that next year, it’s going to be the same,” she said. “I need to do more cardio exercise and get myself into better shape to prepare for it.”
Part of her world travels this season took her to Ireland for the 2011 Solheim Cup. Few golf fans remember that it was Stupples who was supposed to have played Cristie Kerr in the final-day singles matches. Kerr withdrew that morning because of injury and Stupples won the point, but the English player said one of her few regrets this year was not actually having been able to play the match.
“I had been rested for that match and I was ready to play,” she said. “Then it was weird not playing and just cheering everybody on from the sidelines.”
But her European team won the Solheim Cup and the veteran player returned to action on the LPGA Tour with tournament stops in South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Mexico, and finally in her home base of Orlando.
Now, as she winds down 2011 and prepares for 2012, Stupples sees only the possibilities that lie ahead.
And just as it has been for Inkster, now the eldest active member of the LPGA Tour, Stupples believes some of her best golf is just ahead.
“Juli doesn’t want to hang it up because she is so competitive and I feel the same way,” said Stupples. “I love the chance for self-improvement playing golf, as well as being a mom. Fortunately, I get that chance every day.”
Topics: Stupples, Karen