Saturday, March 15, 2014

A second mortgage.

From reading my earlier posts, you will know how big an influence my father was to my golf game.  Not in the usual, watching me pound ball after ball that you see often on driving ranges world wide, but in a supportive, sacrificing his own game so I could play way. 

A perfect example of this was the promise he made to me when I got my first handicap.  The promise was that if I got my handicap to single digits he would buy me a new set of Pings and take me to Gainborough to have them fitted.  In the UK the Ping factory is in Gainborough and at the time they were the gold standard in club fitting.  It was the promise of an adventure and one that I worked every spare minute to achieve. 

When I say every spare minute,  I meant it.  Often in the winter when it would get dark shortly after school finished my dad would pick me up and we would drive to the course just to hit balls for 5 minutes until it too dark to see. 

 I would practice my chipping in the living room of our house,  chipping from in front of the TV onto the sofa.  It wasn't far maybe 4 yards but right behind the sofa was a glass cabinet.  My poor mum and dad must have been having fits at every lob shot I tried.  

Then there was putting in my bedroom.  I drew a line on the carpet with a permanent marker so I could practice making a perfect stroke.  Often I would do this to the small hours of the morning.  That line is still there to this day.  It reminds me of how far I have come and how lucky I was to have such understanding parents.

I reached my goal of a 9 handicap by the time my 15th birthday came around.  So as promised my dad booked a club fitting for me.  My appointment was for first thing in the morning.  Rather than spending money for a Bed and Breakfast dad decided to make the drive up and back to Gainsborough in 1 day.  It was about a 4 hour drive so we set off at 3 in the morning. This was to make sure we didn't hit any traffic and had time for the odd delay along the way.  My father hated to be late and often we would arrive 2 hours early because of it.  I never minded this and I actually think it was a good habit for me to get into.

We did the usual stop at a motorway service station for bacon sandwiches and mugs of tea before our arrival at the factory.  I have to say I didn't know what to expect but was floored by the amount of equipment I saw in the fitting room.  It wasn't like a fitting is today.  I have been very lucky to go to the Callaway facility in Carlsbad.  The cameras, the trackman, the data that get produced is mind blowing.  But back then when I was at Ping it was about hitting a club on a board that left a black smudge on the sole of the iron to determine the lie angle. My color dot was orange. The right shaft was established and the order was sent in.  I actually picked my clubs up that day. which was perfect as we then went to play golf around Gainville golf course that afternoon.  

I remember feeling so proud to be seen with a brand new set of Ping eye 2's.  I think I floated around the golf course that afternoon.  I have no idea how I played and I honestly can't remember much about the round but I remember the experience of the fitting and the proud feeling of accomplishing a goal.  

Dad and I started the journey home,  It had been a long day for him driving all the way there, playing golf and now having to drive home.  I understood he would be tired so I made it my job to keep him going on the journey home.  We stocked up on drinks, normally cokes and plenty of hard fruit candy.  If your from the UK you know the kind, they are ones that come in round tins and always have sugar powder on them.  We were also partial to cadburys eclairs. The logic being we needed some variety on a 4 hour drive.  It wasn't just about the snacks it was about the music, we would play it loud and sing along to the songs we knew.  These road trips with my dad became a large part of my golfing life and created many fond memories.  I am pretty sure I will write about some of them in later blogs.

I was reliving this trip with my dad the other day and how much fun we had and what a gift it was he gave me.  I hadn't stopped to think how much money it had cost him.  He let slip that it felt like he had got a second mortgage to get the clubs for me, and that it started a cycle of loading up the credit cards over the summer and paying them off over the winter. 

 It wasn't long after this I started playing more events all over the country and the harsh reality set in.  There wasn't enough money in the Stupples household for 2 people to play golf,  at least not at the level I was getting to. 

My Father stopped playing golf so I could play.  He said he would have to as he had painful ankles and knees from old rugby injury's.  He says he didn't miss it at all when he stopped as he was enjoying my golf so much and meeting so many new people all over the country at the courses I was playing events at. 

I wish he had been able to keep playing but I know he wouldn't change a thing.  It became my job to not only keep him going on long journeys,  but to make him proud of me as his sacrifice made my career,  my life possible.  I wasn't going to give up trying ever.  I wasn't going to waste the opportunity my father gave me. 

Thank you again, Dad x

Monday, February 24, 2014

Encourage girls to play by being supportive.

Over the course of my early years playing golf, I had many great experiences.  Some of which I have shared with you already.  There will be many more to come in later posts, but for now I want to say it wasn't all plain sailing. 

Being one of the few junior girls playing at my club  I played in a lot of ladies competitions.  My game was improving quickly and this didn't go unnoticed by the lady members.  It was a case of handicap plateaus being broken. I would play to my handicap for a few months or so then all of sudden drop 5-10 off it in a couple of weeks.  This essentially meant quite a few 44 points in stablefords and net scores of  65 or better.  

This happened one lady captains day competition.  I can't remember the exact score but I remember clearly when the scores were posted on the board I had won the 1st place prize. 
Imagine my excitement when I realized the prize was a book signed by Tom Watson.  Sounds like a good ending right...

The prize giving was held after tea, normally sandwiches, cake and a cup of tea.  The 1st place prize was awarded last,  I expected my name to be called out.  Except it wasn't my name being called, but another Lady.  My first though was to wonder what I had done wrong.  Did I make a mistake on my score card? or maybe I looked at the score board wrong.  Neither was the case. 

Apparently the lady captain decided to award a different prize... a junior that wasn't even on display.  The Lady captain said that she would give it to me the following day.  Imagine how disappointed I was when I received a small duffel bag with the word sport written on the side.

 The Tom Watson book would have remained on my bookcase today.  I didn't use the sport bag.  To this day I can only wonder what her thought process was when she decided I wasn't old enough to win the book.  

One other incident sticks out in my mind as a bit of low point during my formative playing years. This is more shocking to me now than it was at the time however I do remember being fairly distressed at the incident.

One day the professional at the club caught me in the pro shop and asked to have a quick chat.  Sure I thought thinking it was about my swing or an upcoming junior match.  He started by saying, some of the ladies don't want to play with you as you are too competitive.  He suggested I try to be not quite so "competitive" 

How was I supposed to take it.  I felt like I was being told off for trying to play well.  After all isn't that the goal of playing.  I was 14 and still trying to get over my shyness.  I guess I must have conformed somewhat but it wasn't long before I joined another club closer to my home where I could be as competitive as I wanted.

This blog post is to try to get people to encourage the girls at your club to continue to be competitive and win club events.  As they will remember and they may end up going to college to play or play professionally.  No matter what, the goal is to grow the game and to make life long fans of golf.  Not turn them away by shortsighted comments. 

Apologies for the somewhat negative post,  but I think its good to give the whole story not just the brilliant stuff.  I am pretty hard headed and didn't let these two things get in the way of my love of the game....thankfully.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Lessons Learned

After my fortuitous meeting on the big practice ground at Princes, with the Kent county ladies golf association captain, I immediately joined as a junior member.  This made me eligible for training and competitions.

Joan Piper, the county captain, suggested I go to Wrotham Heath golf club where they were holding the junior girls championship.  I didn't have a handicap yet, nor did I have a full set of clubs, but she did say, even thought I couldn't play in the competition they were holding a beginners 9 hole event in the afternoon where a lady member would walk round with each group and make sure we learned what playing in a competition was going to be like.

 They would help by teaching us etiquette and some basic rules and make sure we were keeping the score cards correctly. This sounded like a good idea to my father as it meant his rebellious daughter would actually pay attention as to how to behave on the course. This information was better coming from someone who was not my dad as I would rarely listen to him.  That is until I went to college.....a story for a later blog. 

The day of the Kent Girls Championship arrived, Dad and I made the drive to Wrotham Heath.  It was about an hour and half away, not far but my dad made it an occasion. It was in the days before McDonalds and Starbucks so we stopped at a motorway service station for a cup of tea and bacon sandwich.  It doesn't sound like much but back then, to me, it was special.  We were always on a budget so eating out was never an option.  That bacon sandwich and cup of tea felt like a lottery win.

We arrived at the course and the weather was typically British,  wet and chilly, both dad and I hopped it would improve as my tee time approached. 

 I had barely started  playing the game and so was lacking a vital piece of equipment, waterproof bottoms.  I had a jacket and an umbrella and my golf shoes were somewhat water resistant but I knew I was going to get wet.

Unperturbed I headed out with my group and Lady member.  Lady Jenny Benn was her name and it was the first time I had ever met anyone with a title. She was lovely, friendly and very efficient. To this day we remain friends.  She knew her golf and didn't hesitate in helping us out. She volunteered her time in the pouring down rain to put some beginner girls on the right path.  

Not only did she put me on the right path but she put my father on track too.  Being my first time in a competition my dad was both curious and nervous for me so he came out to watch. He hid behind trees and bushes trying to be invisible but failing miserably as not only did I see him, Lady Benn saw him.

She swiftly went over to him and very firmly suggested he leave me alone to play as it probably made me more nervous and besides the clubhouse was a nicer place to be in the rain.  My father took her advice and from that point on he would travel with me to events even sometimes caddied but normally he would pass on watching in favor of being social with the members of the club I was playing.  This isn't shocking as most people who know me would say the apple didn't fall far from the tree. I know my father made many friends this way and it had to be more fun than watching me grind my way round golf courses. Sometimes playing well. sometimes playing terribly. 

For my part that first competition taught me who had the honor on the tee. how to mark a ball, how to tend the flags, repair pitch marks and replace divots. The not so fun parts of learning was the out of bounds rules, lost ball rules were also included. All this while getting drenched and playing those 9 holes in about 3 hours! We were beginners after all and it takes time to hit it as often as we did...

But the lessons learnt on the course were not the only ones.  I didn't win a prize but knew I wanted to.  The Girl who won became the Kent girls champion.  I wanted to be that. I wanted to hold that trophy, and yes I even wanted to make the speech. Right there and then I found my first goal.  I wanted to be the Kent Girls Champion. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The big practice ground.

I am sure everyone realizes how much time and effort a professional golfer puts into their game.  For the most part we are all perfectionists that desire self improvement. We are self motivated and thrive on the solitude that the driving range can bring.  These are common threads that run through every professional, I am no exception.  For me the love of the quiet alone time on the practice ground appeared very early. 

Believe it or not I was very shy.  I found it hard being accepted into any of the groups at school.  I was a tom boy and enjoyed playing football with the boys, unfortunately this didn't go down well with the girls. Then at some point the boys realized they didn't want me playing with them anymore.  School was complicated and none of it came easy.  

Luckily, I had already found golf.  I didn't need to call anyone if I wanted to hit balls.  I didn't have to hang with a group of girls and talk about make up and boys, and I didn't need to try to tag along with the boys for a game of football.  Golf was all mine and I loved it.  No need to share the ball with anyone else, my mistakes were my own.  I enjoyed that responsibility and it created a never ending desire to be as good as I could possibly get.  I had no idea where it would take me or even what being good meant. It was all about personal achievement. 

This is where the big practice ground at Princes Golf Club came in.  It became my sanctuary, a place I could escape to and I would spend every hour possible there. 

It was essentially a huge field with perfect grass that the ground crew would use to replace worn out pieces of turf on the course.  You got to it by driving down a dirt track at the boundary fence between Princes Golf club and Royal St Georges Golf club. You could then take your car to any part of the practice ground to find the perfect spot to hit from.  It had a few huge mounds of soil that had grown over,  they provided shelter from wind so I could work on my swing changes with out being buffeted about.  I created targets and worked on different type of shots on this range.  It was large enough for me to hit in any direction and was always very quiet. 

However one day in the spring of 1985 It had one other person practicing on it.  I was lucky to have my dad with me as I probably would have ran off back to the clubhouse.  The person in question was the lady Captain of the club. Her name was Joan Piper.  Being shy I found it quite intimidating that someone might actually watch me hit some shots and that she was the lady captain.  I was nervous but dad told me not to worry as he was pretty sure she didn't hit it perfectly.  I tried to just concentrate on hitting my balls and ended up not even noticing she was watching.

After about 30 minutes of hitting balls she walked over and starting chatting to my father.  Being curious I listened in.  She told dad she was the county captain and they were looking for junior girls to join the the Kent County Ladies Golf Association.  I think both my dad and I were surprised as it was still so new to me.  She also told my father that she believed I had talent for the game.  Why? my father asked, she replied normally girls are scared to hit it, swinging smoothly trying to hit it straight. Apparently I was throwing myself at it. 

This encounter was to be the start of my amateur career and the first realization that I might actually be able to play the game well. 

I also remember clearly watching the assistant professionals practicing on the big practice ground.  They were so cool, leaving their car door open to let the music from the tape player play while they hit balls.  I would sneakily watch them for hours in awe of how far they hit it and the flight they got to their shots.  Every once in a while they would come over to watch me and help me out with what ever I was working on.  For the first time I felt accepted.  Golf was the bond.

One of my other fond memories of the big practice ground was of my father teaching me to drive his car on it. The Range was so big and always quiet that this was possible.  He had a Renault 11 and it was fairly new.  I was still small for my age and could hardly reach the peddles or see over the steering wheel. But I perched myself on the edge of the seat while my dad guided me through shifting gears and clutch control. 

As I write this I am reminded of the many amazing things my dad did for me growing up.... Oh the trust he must have had when I got behind the wheel of his car.  He really made my time fun on this practice ground and even though he wasn't a great golfer he showed me the right way to work always with an element of fun and competition.  Thank you Dad.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The circus comes to town.

In 1985 I was a 12 year old junior golfer.  I was just finding my feet with the game and spending more and more time at Princes Golf Club. My days were spent hitting range balls and because I had to pick them up I practiced flipping them up on my wedge into my practice ball bag.  I remember feeling like a proper golfer when I mastered this skill. 

I would also spend time putting but not nearly as much as I should have.  I look back now and wish I had spent more time there. 

After I had practiced I would often hang out in the pro shop with the assistant pro's who were giving the junior lessons.  I was fascinated by the repairs they would make on clubs.   They would do all the usual repairs like re gripping or altering the loft or lie.  But the one thing I enjoyed watching the most was when they refurbished a persimmon wood. 

The process involved taking the metal sole plate and face plate off, removing the old whipping (twine) the sanding the head.  Followed by painting and varnishing. The process would take a while as the paint and varnish needed to dry.  After this the metal plates were screwed back on and the Whipping replaced.  The assistants would let me try my hand at it but I could never finish it off properly.  I have to say it was a lot harder than the guys made it look.

During this time I noticed something cool happening on the neighboring course, Royal St. Georges.  Stands were going up, camera towers were being put in place, Rope around the holes and signage everywhere. 

The Circus that is the Open Championship was coming to town.  I remember being very excited, but thought I wouldn't be able to go as my father was having to work.  So I resolved myself to watch it on TV in the pro shop with the assistants.  I don't remember much about the early rounds, but the final round sticks in my mind. 

I was in the pro shop when one of the assistants said they were heading over the fence to watch and would I like to come.  I jumped at the chance, excited to see my first Open and the potential for a British winner.  

Sandy Lyle was playing in the penultimate group behind Bernhard Langer and David Graham.  But by the time he reached the 18th he had a one shot lead. The assistants and I were watching from the side of the 18th fairway as he hit his shot short and left of the 18th green, then to our horror his chip didn't roll up the steep slope and came right back to his feet. he went on to make a bogie. But behind Bernhard and David were struggling. 

The assistants and myself  rushed out on to the 18 fairway in the scrum that always happened after the final group played their 2nd shots to the last hole.  We found ourself right in the middle and unable to see anything.

There was only one thing to do.  I got hoisted onto Terry (the tallest assistant) shoulders and was instructed to tell them exactly what was going on.  In the excitement of the occasion I can only remember saying Lyle' won, Lyle's won.  Im sure I must have told them what Langer and Graham had done but the only thing that mattered to me was the Sandy Lyle was the champion golfer of the year for 1985.

Looking back on it now as I sit in the Golf Channel production room in the Bahamas at the LPGA event. I realize this was my first ever play by play.  It wasn't for TV or radio but for the assistants that had been kind enough to let a 12 year old tag along for the thrill of a Major Championship.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Growing up in a small town in England.

The Beginning

If you have found yourself here at my blog you already know  I am a professional golfer, mother and now Golf Channel analyst.  So how did I get to be so lucky, to have my two dream jobs and a healthy happy son. 

 My blog is my journey from how I started playing to where I am now, talking about the game I love on The Golf Channel.  My writing will not be perfect and no doubt have grammatical and spelling errors.  I just hope I can tell an interesting story of my past  and present life.

So here goes.......

I grew up in a small town in England called Deal.  I'm not lying when I say its a beautiful town,  full of old houses, castles and pubs. Its set on the coast and if you stand on the beach in fine weather you can see France.  It does happen... sometimes.....

I grew up in a hard working family, and at the time my golf journey was about to begin, my father was a foreman at the Port Of Dover, and my mother worked in a factory pressing blouses and dresses.  Watching them work hard to provide for my younger sister and I set a good example for us both.
As soon as I was old enough to realize I wanted to buy things I asked my father for pocket money, I was eleven. His reply has stuck with me and I believe it has made me what I am today. He said "you don't get anywhere in life with out working for it" then he gave me a choice of how to earn my pocket money. " you can either help your mother with the washing up every night (no dishwasher) or you can caddy for me on a Saturday morning".  The choice was simple and obvious. I would pull my dads trolley round a course called Princes Golf Club on a Saturday morning and as a reward for my work I would get  five pounds. I have to say I felt pretty rich. 

It didn't take long for dad to notice that I was always swishing around with his clubs so he posed the question. Would I like to try to play golf?  Again it was an easy answer. I had already fallen in love with the game,  I loved being out doors, I loved the obvious struggle and most of all I loved spending time with my father. 

My father being well versed in the university of life and book of common sense (one of his favorite sayings) knew how important it was for me to get off to the right start.  So he signed me up for the group junior lesson. This took place on a Saturday afternoon. Dad had time to play in his game in the morning. I caddied then I went off to the junior lesson. 

The junior lessons at Princes were a lot of fun. One of the assistant Pro's would be in charge of anywhere from five to ten kids mostly under the age of thirteen. We would all line up with a small stack of balls in front of us and hit away. The assistant pro would make his way down the line helping us with our basics and swing. To be honest it had to be pretty hard on him as getting the ball air born with as hard a swing as possible was the only thing on any of our minds.  Inevitably the balls would run out and we would have to pick them up. There was no fancy driving range and the balls we hit were the pro"s own practice balls. As an incentive to get the balls picked up quickly the Pro would offer a can of coke and a twix to the kid who could pick up the most balls.  It was quite the thing to me to win the coke and twix.  

After my first lesson dad came over and told me that if I wanted to improve I needed to practice. I agreed and I stayed on the practice ground hitting balls trying to get the ball up in the air.  I didn't care if I missed it, I was was working on it.  

There wasn't much spare cash in the Stupples house so buying clubs wasn't simple. I asked for clubs from all my relatives for Christmas and my birthday. Some game me money which I spent on clubs. Eventually I had a half set. They were Mizuno silver cups and my first wood.... was a wood...a three wood to be precise.  

 I hadn't been able to play the course straight away as I was accumulating the clubs and trying to hit the ball far enough to make the carry over the knee high rough from the tee to the fairway.  But eventually I did. I would play a few holes here and there with dad, then one day he said its about time you got a handicap. 

I had to play a full 18 holes. I remember clearly at the end of the first hole dad asking me how shots I had taken. I said five, he replied that I should count again. Apparently I hadn't counted the air shots, Ah the injustice of it all how can they count as a shot if you didn't actually hit it. That was my first experience of golf isn't fair.  But it didn't put me off. and I continued and finished my first ever round of golf in 144 shots.  PHEW!!!!
I know one thing my did had to really love me to go through that for me....

And that is how I started playing this amazingly wonderful yet frustrating game. 

I will continue my journey in my next blog. I have enjoyed reliving this and I am actually looking forward to writing some more.

Stups out x