The Transition: Karen Weiss

Karen Weiss walked on to the Minn. women’s golf team and worked for Target before embarking on a 12-year LPGA career.

Professional golfer Karen Weiss tells of her experiences in the LPGA and her career in golfing Friday morning in the Woodbury Public Library.

Image by Erin Westover

Professional golfer Karen Weiss tells of her experiences in the LPGA and her career in golfing Friday morning in the Woodbury Public Library.

by Nate Gotlieb

Karen Weiss didnâÄôt foresee a professional golf career âÄî until she was living it.

Sure, it may have been a childhood dream, but for the caddy from St. Paul, that idea couldnâÄôt have been further from her mind when she arrived at the University of Minnesota.

âÄú[I] never considered a professional career as something, a) I was necessarily interested in or b) would ever be able to pursue, just from a skill set standpoint,âÄù Weiss said.

But Weiss, on the Evans Scholarship for caddies, tried out and eventually made the golf team at Minnesota. Her improvement was gradual and protracted, but after the 1988-89 season she was named the teamâÄôs most valuable player.

Rather than pursue a golf career out of college, Weiss went to work for Target, keeping the idea of playing professionally in the back of her mind. She frequented the amateur scene during that time, winning four Minnesota WomenâÄôs Golf Association amateur tournaments.

It was during that time that the idea of a professional career became a serious thought.

âÄúI remember [a Star Tribune reporter] asking me, he interviewed me after I won the state match play, and he said, âÄòYou going to go be a professional golfer?âÄô And I said, âÄòAre you nuts? I have absolutely no desire to play professional golf.âÄôâÄù Weiss said. âÄúBut I think it sort of planted a seed, like, you know, why would he even think that?âÄù

The seed soon grew. Weiss compiled a group of sponsors so she could begin her journey. She gave herself three years to make it on to the LPGA Tour.

âÄúI thought that that was enough time to gauge my ability,âÄù Weiss said. âÄúI knew plenty of people who spent 10 years on the mini-tour, and that just wasnâÄôt for me.âÄù

In her early professional years, Weiss played on the prominent womenâÄôs mini-tours, such as the PlayerâÄôs West, the Futures Tour, Central Florida Challenge and the Asian Tour.

It wasnâÄôt an easy lifestyle; she logged a lot of hours in her car, and the tournament purses and quality of courses were subpar.

It was the camaraderie with her fellow players that made those years the experience they were.

âÄúIt was a great time for me,âÄù Weiss said. âÄúI loved it. It was sort of fraternal in the sense that you were sort of caravanning together. Everybody was kind of at the bottom of the barrel, and there was a nice competitive feel. You rooted for your friends. You made good friends. It was much more of an experience that was socially enjoyable.âÄù

Weiss continued to improve on the mini tours, winning on the Asian tour 10 times and accruing other small victories. On her third attempt at LPGA Tour qualifying school in 1993, Weiss received a conditional card for the 1993-94 LPGA season.

The next year, she received a full exemption, solidifying her place on the tour.

âÄúThat sort of validates that all right, wow, IâÄôm a professional golfer,âÄù Weiss said.

Again, it was a learning process for Weiss, both on and off the golf course. The LPGA tour meant an entirely different, and higher, level of play. No longer was Weiss competing against hopefuls; she was at the top of her profession.

Off the course, the friendship that had alleviated the hardships of the mini-tours was nonexistent.

âÄúMost of my good friends on the mini-tours never got to the LPGA tour,âÄù Weiss said. âÄúItâÄôs kind of hard to sort of step out of your peer group. ItâÄôs surprisingly [hard], even for 30-year-olds. We all have that same proximity. Familiarity and history are what bond people, and when youâÄôre sort of outside of that, itâÄôs not as easy to do.âÄù

Weiss slowly improved each season, just as she had done with the Gophers and on the mini-tours. After making just six cuts in 16 events in 1994, her rookie season, Weiss made 13 cuts in 21 events and had her first top-10 finish during the 1995 season. In 1996, she made 16 cuts in 25 events, including a tie for 29th at the U.S. Open.

Weiss had her best season in 1997, finishing in the top 10 in five tournaments and earning $189,812.

Though she continued her tour career until 2006, chronic neck issues expedited her decision to retire.

Weiss made nearly $1 million and had 11 top-10 finishes over her 12-year LPGA career but never won a tournament. Although Weiss estimates she was seriously in contention in about 10 tournaments, she never could get over the hump.

âÄúWith two holes to play, rather than finishing birdie, par to win the tournament, IâÄôd finish bogey, par. I couldnâÄôt make that next leap for whatever reason,âÄù she said.

While struggling with injuries during those later years, Weiss started traveling in an RV with other tour caddies and players, re-creating the fraternity she found fulfilling during her early professional years.

âÄúThat really was the most fun,âÄù Weiss said. âÄúThat gave me the chance to get to know other caddies and players who did that as well, and we became kind of a little bit of a caravan doing that, and that shared experience was enjoyable. YouâÄôd come home and youâÄôd cook out and be at the campground, and I sort of re-created that towards the end of my career.âÄù

Weiss retired from golf following the 2006 season, with the one notable exception being her attempt to qualify for the 2008 U.S. Open, held at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn. Having played just 27 holes of golf in the previous two years, Weiss advanced to the sectional qualifier in Glencoe, Ill., but missed the cut by one stroke.

Weiss caddied the tournament for her friend Jamie Fischer, a complete circle for the former Evans Scholar who never expected to be on the playersâÄô side of the golf ball.

âÄúThe fact that I stayed out there and I played for 13 years and I made a living and I did all of these things that I never really had a reason to believe I could do, thatâÄôs sort of my victory,âÄù she said.