Babies & Birdies: Daycare development opens door for LPGA baby boom

Sean Logan/USA TODAY NETWORK

Babies & Birdies: Daycare development opens door for LPGA baby boom

Golf

Babies & Birdies: Daycare development opens door for LPGA baby boom

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When Juli Inkster’s youngest daughter, Cori, ran a particularly high fever in Portland, Ore., sometime in the late ’90s, the pro did what any mom would do: took her to the emergency room. The doctors put Cori, who was around 3 years old at the time, on an IV and ran tests for meningitis. Inkster got her daughter back to bed around 6 a.m., then headed to the golf course for her 8:45 a.m. tee time.

Guess who showed up on the first tee?

The E.R. doctor that had looked after Cori.

“I figured if you had to stay up all night,” he said, “I can stay up.”

The doc followed Inkster for nine holes.

LPGA moms are like most working moms: totally relatable in their super-hero balancing skills. Only these moms work in the spotlight. Everyday things like swollen ankles, breast-feeding and diaper changes become press conference fodder. The player’s career takes a backseat to the child, and the world becomes captivated by the notion that a woman can be everything to everyone: wife, mom, athlete, caretaker and entertainer.

Baby boom all the rage for LPGA

As the tour skewed younger and younger, the number of moms on the LPGA began to lessen. But now starting a family is all the rage again on tour.

“First Solheim where I’m going to have to order car seats,” Solheim Cup captain Inkster joked about the tour’s recent baby boom.

Stacy Lewis left the interview room early in the week at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix to go pick up baby Chesnee from LPGA daycare. The stats sheet these days look a bit different for the former World No. 1.

Bardine May, director of the Smucker’s LPGA Child Development Center, gave Lewis a rundown of the day’s naps and feedings. For the first time in her career, Lewis creates packing lists when she travels. Her baggage count has more than doubled.

“I was kind of crazy about my time prior to having a baby,” said Lewis, “and I’m even more crazy about it now.”

Gerina Piller and son AJ at an LPGA tour stop in Phoenix. (Sean Logan/USA TODAY Network)

LPGA moms gathered for a meeting in Phoenix to talk about where daycare would be held at tour stops throughout the year. They talked about potentially having it overseas for the first time at the Women’s British Open and Evian Championship. Right now, the service is only available in North America.

This season Smucker’s celebrates 25 years as the LPGA’s daycare sponsor. For many LPGA players, Smucker’s extended the life of their careers.

They’ve come a long way, these babies

“We couldn’t have done it without it,” said Catriona Matthew, who won a major championship 11 weeks after giving birth to youngest daughter Sophie. Matthew’s husband, Graeme, caddied for her until their two girls began school. Now he stays back in Scotland to look after them while 49-year-old Catriona, this year’s European Solheim Cup captain, works her way around the globe for a 25th season.

It wasn’t always this way.

Judy Rankin was among the first playing moms on the LPGA, back when the tour offered nothing in the way of assistance. In the early ’90s the tour struck an agreement with KinderCare, a national daycare chain. But there was a massive flaw in that plan: KinderCare wasn’t open on weekends.

Logan Stupples (right), son of Karen Stupples, plays with Mason Kerr, son of Christie Kerr, at a daycare during the Bank of Hope Founders Cup Pro-Am in Phoenix. (Sean Logan/USA TODAY Network)

Myra Blackwelder, LPGA rookie of the year in 1980, didn’t have the money to hire a professional nanny and relied on youngsters who’d come out on the road with her family and then quit on a whim. One such desertion came just before the tour headed to a ski-resort town in Vermont.

When Blackwelder made the cut, she had a hard time finding someone who could look after Miles, her 5-year-old son. Husband Worth was caddying for another player at the time. Blackwelder gave her son a $20 bill and told him to buy food at the concession stands. If he needed anything, go to the caddie area for help. Miles followed his mother along the ropes, blending in with the gallery.

“That was the day I felt like I needed to quit playing golf,” she said. “I carried so much guilt.”

Blackwelder was outspoken about the need for better tour-provided daycare. Most players weren’t making enough money to pay for childcare on top of regular travel expenses. Myra quit not long after her kids started school. Worth went back on the road as a caddie.

‘I played great golf half asleep.’

Nancy Lopez was pregnant with her first daughter, Ashley, in 1983. She suffered from high blood pressure and swollen ankles. She’d sit with her feet in buckets of ice after the round and players enjoyed grabbing a shovel or cup to throw ice on her.

Lopez hired a nanny to help but couldn’t bear to leave her daughter to cry with someone else in the middle of the night.

“I played great golf half asleep,” she said.

Today’s LPGA moms face a daunting global schedule but also enjoy a far more player-friendly maternity schedule.

This year the tour revamped its policy to allow members to play as many events as they choose while pregnant. In previous years, a player could only compete in 10.

Sarah Jane Smith, seen here in April at the ANA Inspiration, is expecting a baby and will be placed on the Priority List when she returns, allowing her to be as close as possible to where she was at the start of this Tour year.  (Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

“There’s no longer a right or wrong time to fall pregnant,” said expectant mom Sarah Jane Smith. A player’s income is no longer limited by an arbitrary number enforced by the tour. It’s especially important for players like Smith, who has her husband on the bag.

When a player does return to competition, she’s placed on the Priority List in the closest position possible to where she was at the start of her maternity year.

Changes mean more freedom

Another significant change: Players can now take up to two years off.

“I struggled on whether or not to come back after I had Hannah,” said LPGA chief tour operations officer Heather Daly-Donofrio, who won twice on the LPGA.

Daly-Donofrio believes that if this two-year policy had been in place when she was competing, she would’ve postponed her return.

“If you want to breastfeed longer or wait until they can walk and talk a little bit to make it easier to travel,” she said, “it gives players more freedom.”

There are 11 moms on the LPGA in 2019. Seven babies were born last year and three moms are expecting: Brittany Lincicome, Jackie Stoelting and Smith.

Karen Stupples picks up her son, Logan, from an LPGA daycare site during the Bank of Hope Founders Cup Pro-Am in March. (Sean Logan/USA TODAY Network)

Karen Stupples’ 11-year-old son, Logan, traveled with her to Phoenix this year during spring break. He couldn’t wait to visit with everyone at his old daycare while mom went about her duties with Golf Channel.

“I ask myself why,” said Stupples, “and I think it’s because my family are all from the U.K. When he came on tour, Joy (Dods) and Bardine were his family. He grew up with them, and he loves them.”

Daycare open 16 hours daily

Daycare sites each week are kept confidential. There’s a police officer
on-site at all times, and rooms are set up to look the same way each week. Even the music at naptime is the same. Routine and familiarity are vital for kids who live out of suitcases.

Daycare is open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Field trips for the older kids include the zoo in Portland, Ore., the aquarium in Phoenix and Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

May follows live scoring for all the moms. If there’s a mom in contention to win, she coordinates with whomever is onsite to potentially bring the children out for the finish.

“Our job here,” said May, “is to make it so the moms never have to worry.”  Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the April 2019 issue of Golfweek.)

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