New baby, approach help rejuvenate Hart

Marcy Hart during the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Marcy Hart during the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Marcy Hart walked off her 18th hole at the Kraft Nabisco and immediately looked for her chunky, blond bundle of joy. The 33-year-old gave birth to Reece 6 1/2 months ago, and apparently it’s done wonders for her golf game.

“I can’t hardly stand being away from her just to come out and play,” said Hart, who expected to see Reece out with her mother, Penny, by the ninth green (her last hole).

Playing without the weight of expectation and a joyous distraction in Reece, Hart cracked the top 10 for the first time since 2006 at the Kia Classic. She promptly followed that up with a 1-under 71 on March 31, putting her in solid shape at the year’s first major. Hart never expected to even tee it up this week.

At 6-foot, Hart (formerly Newton) looks like the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She took up golf at age 10, tagging along with her older brother, Scott, and father, Ernie. But she also played four years of high school basketball. She won the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 1995 and earned a scholarship to play for the University of North Carolina. Kristy McPherson grew up with Hart and remembers Hart’s relationship with Bubba Watson being a hot topic of conversation between the two. While at UNC, Hart won three college titles, and her second USGA title, the 2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

Naturally, expectations exceeded her towering frame. Shortly after turning professional, she met Rob Hart while practicing at a club in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he worked. The pair were married in November 2002 and, though it wasn’t planned, Rob wound up caddying on the LPGA for almost 10 years. They tried working together, but found it too difficult.

Hart said her career, now in its 11th season, has had more downs than ups. She never finished higher than 55th on the LPGA money list. Her best finish in a major was a T-34 at the 2005 Women’s British Open. This week marks her second time at the Kraft Nabisco, where she’s never made the cut.

“Lack of confidence, more than anything else,” Ernie Hart said of his daughter’s difficulty in transferring amateur success to the LPGA. He said Marcy thought there were many players on the LPGA who simply had more game.

Last year, the Harts decided to try getting pregnant, with no real timeline in mind. Within a month, Marcy was in the early stages of motherhood. Rob got a job at a furniture store in Winston-Salem, and Marcy put her clubs away. Surprisingly, she didn’t miss them.

“That’s the thing I realized about having Reece,” Hart said. “It’s not that I don’t care about golf; it’s just not my life anymore.”

Rob, who encouraged his wife to give it one more shot, caddied for Hart her first week back – after very little practice – at the Founders Cup. Then Ernie took his place the next week at Industry Hills. Hart carded Sunday’s low round, a 65, and qualified for the Kraft. She didn’t have plans to head to California and crashed the first night in Rancho Mirage with Reece at a house rented by several LPGA players, including McPherson.

“I want about a dozen little Reeces,” McPherson said. “Blond hair, a chubby little thing . . . big ol’ ham hock legs.”

Sixty-three-year-old Ernie, a scratch player, will serve as caddie this year, as long as it doesn’t conflict with one of his own tournaments. Penny, 62, will serve as nanny. Marcy joked that her retired parents have never worked harder. Ernie said there’s nothing better in life than helping out one of his kids – or four grandkids, for that matter.

Marcy’s father expected his daughter to walk away from the game after giving birth. She had shown an interest in coaching college golf.

McPherson, however, said all players should be so lucky as to come out with zero expectation and simply let talent take over. It took a baby to make that happen for Hart.

“If she wants to walk away from it, that’s totally fine,” Ernie said. “And if she wants to play, that’s good too.”

Whatever makes mom happy.

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