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Working mothers: Trying to balance golf and kids

Juli Inkster, Janice Moodie, Cristie Kerr and their kids
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When Tiger Woods welcomed his first child, Sam, into the world almost 11 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of consternation over how being a father might affect his PGA Tour schedule that year.

Or how it would impact his skills.

Woods won four of his next seven starts that year, including the PGA Championship.

When Phil Mickelson was preparing to welcome his first child, Amanda, into the world in 1999, it was big news, because there loomed the possibility he might pull out of the U.S. Open with a chance to win. He wore a beeper that weekend in Pinehurst, with a private plane ready for takeoff on quick notice, should his wife, Amy, go into labor.

Amanda waited for her daddy. She was born the day after he finished second to Payne Stewart.

Mickelson didn’t miss a major that year.

LPGA star Gerina Piller announced the arrival of her first child Wednesday. She gave birth to Ajeo James Piller last week.

Piller missed the ANA Inspiration last month, and she will miss the U.S. Women’s Open later this month. She will miss every major this year while on maternity leave. In fact, she expects to miss every event.



Becoming a parent is life changing for PGA Tour pros, but it isn’t career altering, or career ending, the way it can be for LPGA pros.

Lorena Ochoa left the tour at 28 while holding the Rolex world No. 1 ranking, announcing she wanted to start a family.

Annika Sorenstam was still a force when she left the LPGA to start a family in 2008. She never played in another major.

Yes, female tour pros can thrive as mothers at the highest level of the game, as Nancy Lopez, Juli Inkster and Catriona Matthew have proven. They won majors after becoming mothers.

Cristie Kerr has won five times around the world since becoming a mom.

But they are exceptions to the rule.

It’s tougher to compete as a mom. Tour history proves that.

Matthew is the only player to win a major after becoming a mother over the last 15 years.

Kerr is the only mother among LPGA pros in the top 50 in the Rolex world rankings, though Stacy Lewis and Suzann Pettersen are pregnant and expecting to join Piller in giving birth later this year.

“It looks like we might be having a baby boom on tour,” said Karine Icher, who along with Kerr and Piller are the only other LPGA members among the top 100 in the world who are mothers.

With Piller, Lewis and Pettersen among the biggest names in women’s golf, babies are the buzz on tour in a way they haven’t been in some time.

“We’ve become a tour of teenagers,” Icher said. “It’s become so young on tour, but I think we’re going to see even more babies coming soon.”

Morgan Pressel turns 30 later this month, and she told GolfChannel.com earlier this year that Piller’s pregnancy has her thinking.

“It’s definitely something my husband and I are talking about a lot,” Pressel said. “It’s something we will pursue, hopefully soon.

“I told Gerina, ‘Write down everything I’ll need to know.’ I told her to take notes.”

Two-time major champion Brittany Lincicome will eventually want to see those notes.

“I think once one of us gets it started, there’s going to be a ripple effect, with many kids coming at the same time,” Lincicome predicted last year. “One day I can see our kids together.”


Juli Inkster with her daughters Cori (L) and Hayley (R)


Inkster, 57, is the model for this next generation of moms. Hayley, Inkster’s first daughter, was born in 1990. Cori, her second, was born four years later. They aren’t that much younger than Piller, Pressel and Lincicome are today.

In ‘93, the year the LPGA started its traveling daycare center, there were 30 moms on tour, with 47 children who visited the center at some point in the season.

Today?

“It’s usually only three children,” Icher said. “It’s just my daughter, Cristie Kerr’s son and Sydnee Michaels’ baby.”

What can Piller, Lewis and Pettersen expect if they choose to keep playing the tour as moms?

Inkster won 18 times after having children, four of them majors. She credits her husband, Brian, for making it work as a devoted father. They agreed never to be apart for more than two weeks in a row. They took their daughters on the road, but they also built a stable home for them in Los Altos, Calif.

“They didn’t know that not every kid has a frequent-flier cards when they’re 3 years old,” Inkster once cracked.

But the life isn’t as easy as the Inkster family made it look.



THE TUG OF WAR

Golf vs. motherhood.

Patti Rizzo (pictured above) said it was a tug of war that tore her heart apart.

Back in 1980, Rizzo lost to Inkster in the finals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Rizzo would go on to win four LPGA titles, all before becoming a mom.

As a mom on tour, she was miserable.

“I thought it was super, super difficult trying to be both a player and mom,” said Rizzo, now the University of Miami women’s golf coach. “Juli was an exception, because I think it’s a rare situation where it really works.

“There were about 50 moms on tour when I had my children out there, and I think 49 of them were tortured.”

Rizzo’s husband traveled in his job, so she took a nanny on tour with her, to help with her young son and daughter.

“I never played well after becoming a mom, but I wouldn’t trade it,” Rizzo said. “I loved being a mom, but it just got to a point where I really felt like I had to make a choice. Did I want to be a really good mom or a really good player? For me, there was only one option.”

Rizzo remembers playing the Chick-fil-A Charity Classic in Atlanta in 1999, being on a cell phone 10 minutes before her tee time, trying to reach a pediatrician back in her South Florida home. She was desperately trying to help her nanny figure out why her 4-year-old son was breaking out in splotches all over his body. It turned out he was having an allergic reaction to an antibiotic.

The next week, Rizzo had her son and 2-year-old daughter fly out with the nanny to meet her at the Myrtle Beach Classic. Both children were sick by week’s end, when she packed up a car and they all headed south for the Titleholders Championship in Daytona Beach, Fla.

The ride was a nightmare.

With her kids crying and fighting in the back seat, Rizzo was in tears when she intentionally blew past the Daytona Beach exit for LPGA International. She didn’t stop until she was back home in Weston, Fla.

“When kids are young, they are sick a lot,” Rizzo said.

Rizzo remembers the guilt leaving them sick with the nanny to go play golf.

“I wondered, ‘What kind of mother am I?’” she said.

Not long after driving past that Daytona Beach exit, Rizzo retired. She was a single mom by then, making tour life even harder.

“I think even if I had more support, I still would have felt guilty, trying to be a player and a mom,” she said. “It bothered me every time I left home, or I left my kids at day care on tour. I felt like I was abandoning them.

“I loved my children, and I loved being their mom, but I needed a nanny to play golf. I had the fear that mothers have, that their children are going to love their nanny more than they love them.”

Rizzo’s son, Seve, is graduating from the University of Miami this month. Her daughter, Gabriela, is set to graduate from there next year.

“It all turned out pretty good,” Rizzo said, “and I have no regrets.”


Karine Icher and her husband/caddie, Fred Bonnargent


TO JUGGLE? OR NOT TO JUGGLE?

Karine Icher is coming to a crossroads.

At 39, the Frenchwoman still loves to play, but her 6-year-old daughter, Lola, is in first grade now.

Lola has been traveling with her mother since she was a baby. Icher has a family routine that works. Her husband, Fred Bonnargent, is also her caddie. It makes juggling motherhood and golf easier for Icher, but by no means easy.

The crossroads is knowing it’s time for Lola to have a more consistent home life, at a school she isn’t constantly being tugged out of with a pile of schoolwork to do on the road.

“She’s going to need a more normal life soon, to be around friends and other kids,” Icher said.

That means Icher may soon be looking for a new caddie, so her husband can stay home in Orlando to parent Lola when she goes off to play the tour.

Emotionally, that won’t be easy, but it will make tour life less complicated.

When Icher hits the road now, it’s like she’s in a traveling circus. Each event requires a major setup upon arrival, and a major breakdown before departure. The family rents mini-vans, which were stacked full when Lola was a baby, with a stroller, playpen, car seat, toys and other child accessories.



“We took Lola to five or six events on the Asian swing when she was a baby,” Icher said. “I packed a big suitcase full of just diapers, 300 of them. I wasn’t sure what kind of diapers I could find in China and Japan or if we would be staying near a supermarket.”

Every trip comes with its challenges.

“When Lola was a baby, it could be a nightmare,” Icher said. “It’s not easy getting a baby into any sleep routine. When you add jet lag to that, it’s even more complicated.

“As a player, you need some sleep, but so does the caddie. We decided my sleep was more important, so we would get two rooms, and my husband would sleep with Lola. The first two years, getting rest was difficult.”

Icher is a five-time Ladies European Tour winner looking for her first LPGA title. She’s a four-time European Solheim Cup veteran. While she loves being a mom, it comes with a price as a competitor.

“When you become a mom, you experience a different life on tour,” Icher said. “It’s not just about you. You can’t just do what you want. You can’t just leave to go work out whenever you want, to practice or get a massage. And then when you are out practicing, you’re thinking, ‘I want to be with my daughter.’

“And if you’re having a bad day in a tournament, it’s really bad. You’re thinking, ‘What am I doing out here?’”

Icher says it’s more difficult to be a great player with all the sacrifices it requires to be a mother, but being a mom is worth it.



A MOM IN FULL “BLUM”

Amanda Blumenherst (pictured above) fully intended to return to the LPGA after giving birth to her first child, Will. 

The former U.S. Women’s Amateur champ from Duke thought she was just hitting the pause button when she went on maternity leave four years ago.

But when it was time to return ...

“My heart just wasn’t into competing anymore,” Blumenherst said. “To play at that level, to go to a tournament to win, your head has to be completely in the game. You have to want to be there.”

Her head was all into being the best mom she could be.

Three days before Blumenherst was set to return to the tour at the Founders Cup, she withdrew. She couldn’t bear the idea of what she would be giving up to play the tour.

“I feel guilty even leaving my son with my mom, who’s a perfect grandmom,” Blumenherst said. “I don’t think anyone understands how much time children take until they have one. It’s a full-time commitment. It’s also exhausting.”

Blumenherst, 31, said giving up the tour wasn’t easy.

“It’s hard to step away, after spending your childhood preparing to play the LPGA, having visions of winning and playing Solheim Cups, preparing for that for so many years,” Blumenherst said. “But once I made the decision, I was really at peace with it.”

Blumenherst acknowledges it would have been a more difficult decision if she were one of the tour’s stars.



“I will say, I wasn’t playing particularly great,” Blumenherst said. “It would be a lot more difficult decision for a great player, for somebody who feels like she is at the peak of her career.”

Blumenherst and her husband, Nate Freiman, the former Oakland A’s first baseman, had a second son, Charlie, 16 months ago.

“Ultimately, when you reach a certain stage in your life, you have to decide what your priority is going to be,” Blumenherst said. “For me, it was being a mom.

“I appreciate women who love their careers. I know moms who work full time and say they are better moms because of it. I think that’s a superhuman feat, balancing both. I don’t know if I could do it.”

With a baby boom possibly on the way to the LPGA, a lot of pros may soon be asking themselves if they can do both.