Stupples picks up where Nicholas leaves off - Golf - Sport - The Independent

Stupples picks up where Nicholas leaves off

It was entirely in keeping that Karen Stupples, who persevered as a professional golfer at a time when her bank balance rather than her scores were in the red, promised to make a donation to junior golf in her home county of Kent after winning the Women's British Open.

Stupples has never forgotten the support she has received during her career. Her sister Susie's gymnastics hope was one of the many sacrifices the family made, but she is now a deputy headteacher. "Both of them have done pretty well," said Alan, their proud father.

Stupples joined her heroines Laura Davies and Alison Nicholas in winning her national title, becoming the first home player to do so for 13 years, after a dazzling performance at Sunningdale on Sunday.

"I remember watching Laura and Alison and every time they won a title it inspired me," Stupples said. "Hopefully I can inspire others with what I have done today."

It was fitting that last week was Nicholas's last major as the 42-year-old intends to retire at the end of the month. While Davies was the Seve Ballesteros of the women's game, Nicholas was its Ian Woosnam - small of stature, big of heart. In '97 Nicholas denied Davies the opportunity of winning the US and British Opens in successive weeks with her first victory.

Nicholas would add her own US Open title 10 years later and remained the last British player to win a major until Stupples. In 1990 the Solheim Cup, a women's version of the Ryder Cup, was launched at Lake Nona but it was more a contest of promising newcomers against the legends of the game than Europe versus America.

In the opening match, Nicholas and Davies faced Pat Bradley and Nancy Lopez. "I can still remember Ally's face when Pat walked on the first tee," Davies said. "She looked so nervous. She said: 'Don't look now, Lopez is coming.' We were terrified."

None the less, the English pairing won, as they did five of their nine matches together. "We just gelled," Davies said. "As different as our games are, we complemented each other perfectly."

It was holding off Lopez to win the US Open at Pumpkin Ridge in '97 that will remain the highlight of Nicholas' career. It was meant to be the last hurrah of Lopez's career. She was as much an idol in the women's game as Arnold Palmer was in the men's. But she had never won the US Open and Nicholas made sure she never did.

A couple of months later Nicholas was in an airport in the States when a woman rushed up to her. She said: "I know who you are. You beat Nancy Lopez. I didn't like that."

"Well, tough," came the reply. "Sorry about that."

Nicholas, who also spent countless hours working behind the scenes during the more turbulent times on the women's tour, says she is ready to move on to do other things in her career. Few golfers have a list of hobbies that read: skiing, ornithology, reading, photography and scuba diving.

But golf will remain part of her life. She will be vice-captain again to Catrin Nilsmark for next year's Solheim Cup and should, by right, become captain thereafter. She also intends to embrace social golf fully, and play the great courses.

"I've got no regrets," she said. "It's been great fun." What links Nicholas and Stupples is that they could not be more appreciative of what the game has given them and last weekend both were too busy issuing the "thank yous" to receive them.

Rich tees tale of two winners

Alison Nicholas

Born: Gibraltar, 3 June 1962

Lives: Birmingham, England

Turned professional: 1984

European Tour wins:

1987 Weetabix Women's British Open; Laing Charity Classic. 1988 British Olivetti Tournament; Variety Club Classic; Guernsey Open. 1989 German Open; Gislaved Open; Qualitair Classic. 1990 Variety Club Charity Classic. 1992 Open De Paris. 1995 Scottish Open. 1996 Irish Open

LPGA Tour wins:

1995 Corning Classic LPGA Championship. 1997 US Open. 1999 Hawaiian Open

Other wins:

1992 Western Australian Open; Malaysian Open

Solheim Cup: 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000

Career earnings: £1,932,064.26

Karen Stupples

Born: Dover, 24 June 1973

Lives: Florida and England

Turned professional: 1998

European tour wins:

2004 British Open

Career earnings: £229,652.70

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