WOBURN – This week, Karen Stupples returns to where it all began.
In 1996, the young amateur made the two and a half hour trip from her home to Woburn Golf Club where the RICOH Women’s British Open was being staged. In years past Stupples had played in the Prince of Whales Trophy, which was held on the Duke and Duchess Course, two of three courses at Woburn in addition to the Marquess, where this week’s championship is being held. All are tight, tree-lined tracks that couldn’t have been more different from the links style courses Stupples grew up on.
“Didn’t really ever play particularly well because it was tough. I mean, I was used to links courses which was wide open, and you could aim anywhere and draw the ball in from right to left or hit a big fade from left to right and it was pretty open,” Stupples told LPGA.com this week at Woburn. “Here it always felt claustrophobic to me. The trees are big and sometimes you can’t take those lines. Normally just a dead straight shot was required and I didn’t have that shot so much in those days.”
Unsure of how her abilities compared to the world’s best she set out to discover the answer during the major week at Woburn.
“This was my first experience with professional golf, “said Stupples. “I went through the qualifying, played all four days. Didn’t take the low amateur honors, was beat out by a girl called Lisa Dermott but had a great time playing and it was my first real introduction into what could be in store for me in the future and gave me a nice little boost to know I could do it.”
Stupples received much more than just a boost in confidence, learning more importantly what she would need to do if she wanted to make a career in golf.
“They managed their game so much better than I did. I would take driver out where they would take three wood, they were so much better around the greens in terms of their bunker shots and their chipping,” said Stupples. “Even though I played college golf in America I still wasn’t quite ready but I knew that I was competitive enough, I had a drive in me that meant that I was quite willing to work really hard to achieve what I felt like I could do.”
In 1999, Stupples joined the LPGA Tour but it would be several years before she would become a winner, eventually breaking through at the season opening Welch’s/Fry’s Championship in 2004 where she opened and closed with rounds of 63 to win by five strokes. If there were ever a major championship Stupples thought she would win it was the ANA Inspiration. The very thought of winning her home major was just a fantasy to her, a dream she didn’t even bother to entertain. Mission Hills in Palm Springs, California is where Stupples set her sights.
“I won the qualifying round there by eight shots when I went to Q School and I just love that course, everything about it really felt special to me to go back and play there,” Stupples said “At Mission Hills and the golf course there you can hit a driver the further you hit the higher you hit the better off you are. And so that’s really where I felt the most at home, so having to reign in my game a little bit over here it was tough for me to do.”
But Stupples never finished better than a share of fifth in the desert. It would, ironically, be just where she believed it would never be possible that she broke through for her first and only major title: England. In 2004, the RICOH Women’s British Open was staged at Sunningdale Golf Club in Berkshire, England. In years past the return home to compete in this championship was a struggle for Stupples who tried to split her time between spending time with family and preparing for the championship.
“I had grown up on them and it might be down to the fact I was close to home and I just wanted to be at home with my family and see them it was really hard for me to focus and concentrate on playing well and whether it was my golf game wasn’t quite ready for that step. But again it came down to course management, I used to try and play aggressively and take on things and it really didn’t stand me in good stead.”
But Sunningdale was different, everything came together for Stupples that week, punctuated by an eagle and albatross in her first two holes to start the fourth round. She would go on to post a final round 64 to win at a record total of 19-under par.
“To walk up the 18th fairway, I had a five shot lead and to see the flags and the cheers and people calling for me it was it gives me a goose bumps. I really can’t believe it happened to me, and I still have to pinch myself that it was me because I was so in the zone I didn’t realize it at the time. It’s like really, that was me? And you watch yourself do it on tape and you’re like that was actually me, I did that and it’s really amazing.”
Stupples returns this week to Woburn in a different capacity, making her first trip back as a member of the Golf Channel broadcast team where she has worked for three years. She says she believes her record could be in jeopardy this week, predicting even before the week began that this could be the year someone betters her winning total. She proved to be right as Mirim Lee opened with a record 10-under par, 62 on Thursday at Woburn, proof of the work Stupples puts in getting to know this next generation of players in her second career.
“I didn’t really think I could have one dream come true. One dream to play on the LPGA and the next one to be covering golf,” said Stupples. “I mean I didn’t even know that professional golf was in my future and then to take home a major and it be my major my home major the British was something you know fairytales are made of.”