Wife Mom and 33-Year-Old Rookie

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Ladies Professional Golf AssociationLOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Pack the kids and the clubs into the motor home, jump into the seat beside the husband, and hit the road to play some well-manicured golf course at still another resort spot.
 
Family vacation?
 
Juli Hilton laughs and shakes her head at the suggestion. Hilton insists that being on tour is mostly hard work, especially for a 33-year-old wife, mom and LPGA rookie.
 
'It's fun to be with the family, but it's definitely not a vacation,' she said during the tour's recent tournament in Los Angeles. 'We did take a day off, a vacation day, last week.'
 
Hilton didn't begin playing golf until she was 18. Most players come on the tour in their early 20s. Some are even younger like 17-year-old Aree Song, who was the runner-up at the Kraft Nabisco Championship last month.
 
'It's funny being 33 years old and a mother of two and still being called a rookie, but it's what I've worked so hard to do,' Hilton, whose daughter Mackenzie is 5 and son Trevor is 3, wrote in her online diary. 'But a rookie's a rookie, and the players have really been helping me out, showing me the ropes. It's a lot of fun,' she said.
 
Hilton is a latecomer to the tour in part because she was a latecomer to the game.
 
'I played sports like basketball and tennis all through high school. I didn't know anybody who played golf,' said Hilton, whose Saratoga, Calif., high school didn't have a girls' golf team. When I got to college, I didn't pursue any of those sports and I got a little bored.
 
'My dad had always wanted me to play golf. So the summer after my freshman year, I took it up seriously and started taking lessons.'
 
>As a sophomore at Southern California, she was a sort of walk-on with the women's team. She eventually transferred to the University of San Francisco and made the team there.
 
'I finally broke 80 the summer after my sophomore year. My scores came down pretty quickly,' Hilton recalled.
 
It still took her a long time to make it to the LPGA Tour. She turned pro in 1995, played a couple of years on the Futures Tour, and earned an exempt status for this year's LPGA Tour by finishing in a tie for 17th in the final qualifying tournament of 2003. It was the fourth time she had tried to qualify.
 
'It's been a long road here to the LPGA and it's a journey I'm looking forward to making,' she wrote in her rookie diary.
 
The journey has been a bit rocky so far. Hilton didn't make the cut in any of the three tournaments she has played, although she came with two shots of making it in each of her first two events, in Tucson and Phoenix. Her scoring average of 75.17 ranks 122nd on the tour.
 
She will try again in the Las Vegas tournament that begins Wednesday.
 
'I don't really focus on making cuts,' Hilton said. 'It may not be making a cut, it might be a win.'
 
Husband Shaun Hilton, her caddie and No. 1 fan, is proud of his wife's determination.
 
'Some days, some weeks some months, it's tough, there are strains. But ultimately, she seems extremely happy. She's really been trying hard for the last three, four years, since we had our second child and she joined the Futures Tour,' he said.
 
'She's more and more dedicated and every year, she has advanced. To see that in my wife makes it really easy for me to back and support her.'
 
She has other support, as well, including a sponsor to help meet expenses, and the use of the LPGA's daycare to mind the kids while she and her husband are on the golf course.
 
Hilton said she will have to reevaluate her career if she struggles on the tour, but she is determined to make a go of it.
 
'I still believe I can be successful out here,' she said. 'It will be hard to stop if I still believe I can do it. If I think I've gotten to the top of my game and it's still not good enough, then I wouldn't play any more.'