Major League Baseball players remain on the paternity list for 72 hours.
They go home, experience the birth of their child, and then they’re off to faraway cities for the remainder of the season.
When Sydnee Michaels gave birth to her first child in November, she stood on the sideline for a few months. In March, she returned inside the ropes — and she brought her daughter, Isla, with her.
There are no daycare centers inside Comerica Park, Quicken Loans Arena, or Ford Field. But at each LPGA Tour stop, the J.M. Smucker Company — headquartered in Orrville, Ohio — provides free daycare for all tour moms. What started in 1993 as the brainchild of former commissioner Charlie Meacham has become a mainstay and made life on the road a little less hectic for golfing mothers.
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“The daycare service we have is amazing,” Michaels said. “We couldn’t do this without it. We’d have to hire someone to travel with us full-time. They’re incredible. I still have time to do my job and know she’s being well taken care of.”
The director of the LPGA Child Development Center is Bardine May, who’s been traveling with the tour since 2003. Two full-time staff members and a group of volunteers teach and take care of children ranging in age from six months to 12 years old.
During May’s 15 years on tour, she’s cared for dozens of children, some of which have gone off to college. The 52-year-old grandmother of three is a former preschool teacher who doesn’t hide her love for kids. It’s a good thing because tournament days begin at 5 a.m. and can run as late as 9 p.m.
“It’s fun to see them all develop,” May said. “We call it our little family out here. They grow up together. It’s fun to have the older ones come back. I just got a graduation announcement from someone who’s going off to college this fall.”
There currently are 10 mothers on tour, down from 49 at the turn of the century. A changing demographic of younger players is the biggest reason for the decrease, but a baby boom that includes Toledo native Stacy Lewis is in progress.
The Marathon Classic is Rachel Rohanna’s first tournament back since the birth of her daughter, Gemelia, on June 12. Gerina Piller’s son, Ajeo, was born in April, and she won’t return until next year. Karine Icher stopped playing in June in preparation for the birth of her second child in the fall. Lewis, whose first child is due in November, is playing this week in her final tournament of the season.
There remains a stigma, even in 2018, associated with women on the Tour who have children and continue their playing careers. Similar thoughts creep into the corporate world. Players are confronted with questions about how difficult it is to play with children and if they should remain at home to raise them, inquiries that male athletes rarely face.
LPGA pro Sydnee Michaels holds her daugther Isla at an event. The LPGA provides daycare for children at each tournament site.
”Having a baby, there’s going to be even more difficulties,” Rohanna said. “Talking to Sydnee Michaels, she said you just do it. I think that’s what everyone does. All the girls out here who have had kids and anyone who’s had kids and gone to work, you just get it done and do it.”
Pregnancy, childbirth, and golf don’t always mix. Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa, arguably the two greatest female golfers of all time, retired in their prime to start families and never returned. Starting a family is a career-altering move men don’t grapple with.
“I don’t think Major League Baseball worries about Albert Pujols leaving when he’s 27,” Tour commissioner Mike Whan said. “But we worry about Stacy Lewis leaving when she’s 27. These are superstars at the top of their game, and goodness knows they shouldn’t have to make a decision between their careers and being a mom. I want to make them realize you can do both. We need to bring the daycare to them.”
Jack Nicklaus won majors after his children were born. Michael Jordan won more MVPs and NBA championships. Tom Brady still is winning Super Bowls. But in the past 20 years, Catriona Matthew is the only LPGA player to win a major after having children.
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“I’m out here trying to change things and make it better for the girls behind me,” said Lewis, who’s won two majors. “These girls know they don’t have to take a year off of golf to have a family. You can still play golf and make money and do what you need to do and have a baby at the same time.”
Traveling on tour already is difficult — an oversized golf bag, weeks worth of clothes, rental car returns, navigating cities and airports. Over time, it becomes a stressful endeavor. Just imagine adding a baby, stroller, and car seat to the equation.
“There’s a little bit more time management and more moving parts — and more bags,” Michaels said, laughing. “But I’m loving having her out so far.”
Once mothers arrive at the tournament site, the degree of difficulty is taken down a notch thanks to the daycare center.
“You have to compromise a lot of things and be very well organized,” said Icher, whose first child, Lola, was born in 2011. “But it’s possible with the daycare. It’s a big help. You drop your kids off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon, just like every other working mom in the world. It’s a nice adventure. I hope one day [Lola] will remember it and all the places she saw and people she met.”
The top priority for the daycare is not only to provide a refuge for children during the day but also give mothers peace of mind. The tour doesn’t want players fretting on the golf course about child accommodations instead of concentrating on their job.
Motherhood undeniably adds another dimension, the biggest perhaps being a new perspective.
“I definitely have some different motivation now,” Michaels said. “I think about [Isla] when I’m playing, and I can’t wait to see her when I’m done. I’m still a professional and a competitor. I’m still going to get mad when I don’t play well. But seeing your child at the end of the day, they don’t care if you play well or not, and that is refreshing.”
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