July 21, 2024
US Women's Open: Juggling a pro golf career when you're a Mom

US Women’s Open: Juggling a pro golf career when you’re a Mom

Twenty years ago, this is exactly what amateur Brenda Corrie-Kuehn — eight months pregnant — did at the US Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club alongside playing partner Jennifer Greggain, who was well into her second trimester.

Yet the mother-of-three finished with a birdie and defied her obstetrician-gynecologist, who thought she was too close to the due date to be on a golf course in 80-degree heat.

“I said to her: ‘Over my dead body.’ I qualified for this, I worked hard to get there, I am going to play,” Corrie-Kuehn told CNN Sport.

A week later, daughter Rachel was born, and her 56-year-old mom will have inspired others to carry on living life when your tummy and your doctors are telling you no.

Corrie-Kuehn tees off during the first round of the 56th U.S. Women's Open Championship at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina, on Thursday, May 31, 2001.

“It was not pretty. I don’t remember what I did, but there’s a point towards the end of your pregnancy where you just get big very quickly,” said the nine-time US Open veteran.

“I think that happened between the time of qualifying for the Open and the actual event itself, and it’s hard to fire the hips with the added weight, so my swing changed and I couldn’t hit it very far. But I was glad to be there.

“A lot of people asked me: ‘How could you play that way?’ What I was trying to show was it’s part of life. I had some physical restrictions and after the US Open I played in a cart at home before Rachel was born.

“What I was trying to show was just because you’re pregnant, and unless you have a medical condition, you can do the same things you did before you were pregnant and after you deliver. That was my message.”

With such golfing genes — Corrie-Kuehn’s mother was a Venezuelan national champion and so was her dad — it’s little wonder Rachel followed in her mom’s footsteps to the renowned Wake Forest University in North Carolina where she also excels at golf, narrowly missing out on the Augusta National Women’s Amateur finale at Augusta earlier this year.

She has the most avid supporter in her mom, whose advice for any pregnant golfer is to watch how long you spend practicing on the greens.

“It affected my distance a lot. Imagine having a 30-pound ball in front of you and trying to fire your hips, you would lose your balance. So my swing became very armsy and rhythmical.

“But there’s no reason for the short game not to be good — although you cannot sit and practice your putting for a long time because your back kills you.”

Strong moms

Three-time major champion Nancy Lopez has three daughters and won events while pregnant in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 2003, France’s Patricia Meunier-Lebouc played the Solheim Cup four months pregnant, taking some handy advice from Carin Koch, the Swede having played the 2002 competition at 12 weeks.

In 2005, Laura Diaz and Iben Tinning met in the biennial competition, American Diaz six months pregnant and Dane Tinning 16 weeks.

In the world of long drive championships, Lisa ‘Longball’ Vlooswyk became the first competitor in the field to throw her added weight into the biggest drives in the game.

In turn, she inspired five-times world champion Sandra Carlborg from Sweden, who was pummeling 300+ yard drives in the 2019 tournament when she was 24 weeks pregnant with her daughter Ebba.

“We had a medical tent because it was very hot that day, the medical guy was cooling me down with ice between sets,” Carlborg told CNN.

“I felt safe and he said: ‘As long as you feel good, it’s ok.’ I promised him if I felt anything uncomfortable, I would stop competing,” said the 37-year-old, who hit 80 balls at full tilt that day and whose longest drive is 401 yards, five shy of the world record.

Now expecting her second daughter, due in September, Carlborg has used the Covid-19 lockdowns to start a podcast called PowerMamas in Sweden to help empower new mothers.

Carlborg plays a shot.

“I’m getting weaker and weaker again so I’m really looking forward to coming back as a strong athlete for next year. My goal is to be my strongest me — stronger than I’ve ever been and swing it faster than I ever have.

“Many people say women are stronger after they’ve been a mom.”

Carlborg gets some of her positive outlook from the way her sponsors initially took the news she was having her first baby.

“It’s a big difference nowadays. I was very nervous when I told my sponsors I was pregnant with Ebba, wondering what they were going to say, but I think that’s been a big change in the past few years, in all sports.

“I’m happy that we live not like 10-15 years ago, people always used to say: ‘When you have kids. you’re out of your sport.’ I hope more ladies are thinking that having kids won’t stop them from being a high-level athlete.”

Former Great Britain rower Baz Moffat founded the Well HQ earlier in 2021 with two doctors — one of whom, Dr Emma Ross, has written a chapter on women and pregnancies in golf as part of a female athlete health book.

“Pregnancy and post-natal recovery in sport is a really, really new thing. Brenda is a real one-off,” Moffat told CNN.

“It’s only really since Serena Williams in 2014 that this has become more of a thing, in terms of more women sandwiching in children within their careers — as opposed to just pushing their careers right up until the point they want to have children and that being the number one reason they retire from sport.”

Mother-of-two Moffat, who trained with the Great Britain Olympic team between 2004-08, said the change has been massive from her day as an elite athlete post the Beijing Games.

“I don’t think there were any moms in the world of international sport back then. A few people tried to leave, have children and come back again, within a four-year cycle, but the support systems weren’t there.

“If the number one reason women are leaving their sport early is to have children, how can we support them throughout that? It’s not perfect now, but there are examples of women doing it fantastically.”

Laura Diaz shelters from the sun on the fifth hole during the friday morning foursomes matches in the 2005 Solheim Cup.

Even par one day, a little birdie the next

Back at Wake Forest University, Kuehn’s teammate Emilia Migliaccio is the talk of US amateur golf after making the playoff at Augusta but losing to a clutch par from 17-year-old Japanese star Tsubasa Kajitani.

Like Kuehn, her mom too was a brilliant talent. Ulrika Migliaccio represented the University of Arizona and also played alongside fellow Swede and 10-time major winner Annika Sorenstam.

So when Ulrika donned the famous white Augusta boiler suit to caddie for her daughter in April, it made Emilia gush with pride as she thought back to her mom as a golfer, not least playing the game pregnant.

“I think the day before my mom had me, she played a round of golf and shot even par,” the 22-year-old told CNN, a huge smile breaking out across her face.

“She was playing with two men who looked at each other and said: ‘Really? We’re playing this pregnant lady?’ Then she totally tore it up!”

Migliaccio her caddie and mom, Ulrika after losing on the first playoff hole to Tsubasa Kajitani during the Augusta National Women's Amateur tournament.

Migliaccio grew up aspiring to play sport professionally, has rubbed shoulders on team events with the likes of Patty Tavatanakit, Collin Morikawa, Jennifer Kupcho and Viktor Hovland and plays the game to a level most people can only dream about.

Yet she has decided to follow her mom’s footsteps in not joining the professional ranks.

“She didn’t really like living out of a suitcase, and decided the professional track wasn’t going to be for her. When I was questioning my career path, my mom shared her experience and she’s given me a lot of guidance.”

Like Ulrika Migliaccio that day on the course, Carlborg has a lesson for some male golfers too.

“Back in 2019, when I was 30 weeks pregnant, I was telling guys at an event not to complain about their big stomachs, they’re not stopping you hitting it far!

“So hopefully I can inspire a lot of people from being pregnant.”