After Juli Inkster, the defending champion, shot a two-under-par 70 in the first round of the Dinah Shore tournament, in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in March, she was ushered into the press tent to answer the usual questions. Once she had recited her round, hole by hole, for the benefit of the wire services and the dailies, the questioning got down to the nuts and bolts—the logistical problems inherent in breastfeeding an infant while competing in a major golf championship.
At the time, Inkster was six weeks into motherhood, and the Dinah Shore marked her return to competition after a layoff of six months. Her daughter, Hayley, back at the hotel being looked after by her two grandmothers, was merely the latest addition to the Ladies Professional Golf Association, juvenile touring division. As of Mother's Day 1990, there will be 24 tots on tour and five more on the way. Just two weeks ago Laura Baugh, who is married to PGA Tour player Bobby Cole, gave birth to No. 24, Haley, her third child.
Sixteen LPGA players have chosen the motherhood route, a road that is pocked with hazards no golf course architect could envision, and they are changing the face of the tour. Strollers pushed by fathers, grandmothers and nannies cruise the cart paths. Kids are welcome in the players' locker room. The tour's Christian Fellowship plans special events for the offspring of its members. Hotel suites with kitchens are hot; fancy restaurants are not: A room with a view versus a room with a fridge? No contest.
Former frequent flyers now opt for minivans and motor homes, hauling cribs, strollers, toys and baby-sitters wherever the grass is short and the money is green. Nancy Lopez, whose daughters, Ashley and Erinn, are 6 and 3, respectively, has had a minivan for several years. Cathy Gerring chauffeurs 22-month-old Zachary and his grandmother in a full-sized GMC van. Myra Black-welder, mother of Myles, 5, and Mallory, 3, acquired her 37-foot motor home when Myles was 2 and prone to screaming and to throwing food in restaurants.
Blackwelder divides her touring motherhood experience into three stages. The first was the problem-solving stage—how to transport the baby gear. The second she calls Life with Myles in Hotels and Airports. But those first two stages were a breeze compared with No. 3, which Myra and her husband, Worth, are about to enter. Now the family decisions get complicated. In the fall Myles will start kindergarten. Should baby sister Mallory stay home with Myles, in Lexington, Ky., so he won't feel neglected? Should Worth, who caddies on tour for Inkster, get a regular job and stay home with Myles? Or with Myles and Mallory? Myra figures that someday, perhaps in her retirement, she'll laugh about it all. She's not laughing now.
Baby-sitting bills and other parenting expenses on the tour can run $1,000 a week, and though bigger tournament purses and bigger paychecks in recent years have eased the financial burden, the physical and mental strain of a long night with a sick child takes its toll on a professional golfer with an 8 a.m. tee time. Nevertheless, it's easy to spot a golf momma. She's the one who's smiling after shooting a 78. "When you've got kids to worry about," says Blackwelder, "a double bogey isn't the end of the world."
LPGA president Judy Dickinson, whose twin boys, Barron and Spencer, are eight months old, missed the cut at the Kemper Open in March. She was bitterly disappointed, she says, until she got to her car in the parking lot and saw the twins. "Seeing them put everything in perspective," Dickinson says. "It was just one game of golf."
On the day before Easter, a frisky collie named Duke preceded Dickinson into the trophy room of her house in Tequesta, Fla. The walls and shelves of the room were covered with tournament mementos and family photos, but the carpeted floor belonged, for the moment, to Barron and Spencer and their toys, bottles and playpen. Judy's favorite afternoons are spent playing with the boys. This particular afternoon she dangled a lavender bunny-shaped balloon before them, and soon the sunny room was filled with coos and squeals.
Dickinson, 40, is married to PGA veteran and Senior tour player Gardner Dickinson, 62. When the twins were 3½ months old, Judy and Gardner left them at home with their nanny and went to Palm Springs to play in a couples tournament. The first night away the Dickinsons missed the babies so much they almost went home. "After that experience, I knew I couldn't go away without them," says Judy. "I want to be there to raise them. As it is, I feel like I'm not spending enough time with them because I'm away during the day, practicing and working."
Until Ashley, the older of the two, reached grade-school age, Lopez never considered leaving her daughters at home in Albany, Ga., where she and her husband, Ray Knight, now a baseball analyst for ESPN, have lived for the past eight years. "Why would you have children if you're not going to have them with you?" she says. "I've never felt they were a burden."
Still, life is hectic in the Lopez-Knight household this spring. Landscape architects are sprucing up the six acres of pines and oaks that surround the main house, and a construction crew is at work on a swimming pool to go with the guest house and the batting cage. When Lopez is between tournaments and not at a ballpark with Knight, she can probably be found entertaining interviewers in her living room, conferring with landscapers in the kitchen, or at the wheel of the Mazda she won last year at the LPGA Championship, shuttling Ashley and Erinn to preschool and ballet lessons. If she is none of those places, she might be on the practice tee at the Doublegate Country Club.
Lopez has won 42 tournaments and $2.78 million since she turned pro in 1977, and the money goes a long way toward lightening most burdens. Still, win or lose, her family comes first. Even when a major championship is at stake, she doesn't hesitate. The night before the second round of the Dinah Shore last year, Lopez was up most of the night with Ashley, who had a violently upset stomach. The next day she shot 75, her highest score of the week, and on Sunday she finished tied for 18th. "It was aggravating, because the Dinah Shore is such a big tournament and you want to be at your best," Lopez says. "But Ashley needed me."
Lopez hasn't won a tournament this year, partly because of a thyroid condition, and partly, she admits, because she has sacrificed practice time to be with her children. One of her time-consuming projects is getting herself into good enough shape to do cartwheels with Ashley, who's a cheerleader for a kids' football team in Albany. "I would like to be the perfect mom, the perfect wife and the perfect golfer," says Lopez. "But I've found that it's almost impossible."
The LPGA began preparing for the baby boom three years ago, when it entered into a sponsorship deal with Kinder-Care Learning Centers. In exchange for being designated the official child-care provider to the LPGA tour, Kinder-Care offers free day-care and transportation services for player parents at most tournament sites. The idea is to ease the mind of the parent who can't provide a relative or afford a nanny, and also to make her life easier by giving her a break. "A grown-up can only spend so much time with a child," says Dale Eggeling, a pro who has a two-year-old son, Dustin. On the other hand, kids who are among adults most of the time need a break, too. Day-care gives them a chance to be with other children.
Twenty years ago such a service would have been the answer to Judy Rankin's prayers. Rankin, along with Kathy Cornelius and three-time U.S. Open winner Susie Berning, pioneered LPGA family touring. Rankin, now a commentator for ABC golf telecasts, was a golf prodigy from St. Louis who turned pro at 17. At age 22 she married Walter (Yippy) Rankin, an insurance executive, and in 1968, at 23, she had a son, Walter Jr., then known as Tuey. Judy had intended to retire from the tour when Tuey was born, but she played so well in her first two outings after giving birth that she eventually decided to return to full-time competition, taking husband and child with her. For the next 12 years, Yippy and Tuey Rankin were LPGA tour fixtures, while Judy played the best golf of her life, winning more than 25 tournaments. Tuey traveled full-time until he entered school; after that father and son commuted between their Midland, Texas, home and the tour.
It wasn't an easy life. Tournament purses were meager and finding a good baby-sitter was an iffy proposition. Once when three-year-old Tuey was sick, Rankin almost withdrew from a tournament because she had second thoughts about the baby-sitter she had left the boy with. A tournament volunteer saved the day by picking him up and caring for him while Rankin played her round.
Another time Rankin hired a 14-year-old boy to baby-sit when Tuey had chicken pox, because the kid was the only person she could find who had already had the disease. "I didn't think it was possible, when I came on the tour, to try to be married, have a child and play on the tour full-time," she says. "Everybody has to give a bit."
The ride on the motherhood road is rougher for some than for others. Terry-Jo Myers, 27, who describes herself as a "type-A personality, a perfectionist," was a promising fourth-year pro with one victory on her record and winnings of $77,000 in her best year when she became pregnant late in 1988. She returned to the tour last September, five weeks after her daughter, Taylor-Jo, was born, and in three season-ending tournaments she finished 51st, 62nd and 74th. Her total winnings for 1989 were $13,646. Returning home to Fort Myers, Fla., Terry-Jo sank into a severe depression that lasted two months and came, she thinks, out of "hormonal changes, the pressure of going on tour with a baby and not knowing what to expect, and trying too hard to be perfect." She says, "It was the first time in my life I felt like I was out of control."
Not wanting to take care of her baby and buffeted by mood swings that were straining her marriage to Gary Mundy Jr., a paramedic, Myers consulted a psychologist and an obstetrician specializing in the treatment of postpartum depression, who prescribed tranquilizers and hormones. "Since February I've felt wonderful," she says. "The postpartum [depression] is gone. But it was like starting the season three months behind everyone else, because I couldn't prepare the way I normally would." Evidence of her effort to catch up is a stair-climbing machine that stands next to the playpen in the living room of her condominium.
After eight tournament appearances and five missed cuts this year, Myers is off medication but still far down the money list. "But I'm on a more even keel," she says. "I know I will play good golf again."
This is also a comeback year for Gerring, sister of PGA Tour player Bill Kratzert. In 1989 she and her mother, Joanne Kratzert, spent more time in hospital emergency rooms around the country, dealing with her son's medical problems, than they did in their van. Poor little Zachary suffered 10 ear infections in a span of four months, and Gerring missed almost as many cuts. In April '89, during a tour stop in Los Angeles, Gerring almost gave up. She was in an emergency room again, this time because the antibiotic Zachary was taking had caused severe diarrhea and dehydration. Gerring decided that if her son didn't get better soon, she would leave the tour.
The story has a Mother's Day ending. Zachary did get better. A few weeks later a doctor in Columbus, Ohio, inserted tubes in the baby's ears to ward off future infection, and that did the trick. This season Zachary is healthy and Gerring is in the Top 10 on the money list. "It's a sacrifice to have children and play the tour, but those sacrifices have been well worth it," she says.
Inkster insists she can play golf and mother at the same time and that neither game need suffer. "I think you can do both, if you have a supportive family and a great husband," she says. She admits she has had it pretty easy so far. Her husband, Brian, the pro at the Los Altos (Calif.) Country Club, frequently handles midnight feeding chores, and relatives have pitched in to baby-sit while Juli practiced. Still, adjustments have been necessary as Inkster learns to juggle her new responsibilities. An admitted sleepaholic, she liked to turn in at nine at night and rise at nine in the morning. Now, though she gets up at seven, some tasks go undone.
"In the long run I think motherhood will help me," Inkster says. As if to make her point, she got off to a blazing postnatal start, finishing 11th after that opening round 70 at the Dinah Shore and seventh the next week in San Diego.
As a group, the LPGA moms profess to cheer for each other, but Inkster is testing the clan's loyalty. They claim that while her high finishes are giving motherhood a good name, she is spoiling a perfectly acceptable excuse for poor play.