Looking back: A win for working mothers

(This was my column in The Clarion-Ledger, the day after Juli Inkster won the U.S. Open at Old Waverly in 1999.)

WEST POINT – Not another working mother in these United States swings a golf club like record-setting U.S. Women’s Open champion Juli Inkster.

But every working mother alive can identify with what Inkster goes through emotionally every time she leaves her two daughters at home and heads for work.

“Saying good-bye is really tough,” Inkster says.

Hayley, the 9-year-old, plays on a softball team that just made the league playoffs. Cori, the 5-year-old, graduates from pre-school Tuesday.

Every time mom calls home to Los Altos, Calif., Cori wants to know when she’s coming home. Hayley has been at this longer. She understands what her mother does and knows the routine.

Inkster will fly home for Cori’s graduation ceremony and Hayley’s first playoff game, but not before she does a golf clinic in Rochester, N.Y., today. Such is life on the LPGA Tour. Inkster will have to wait until Tuesday for the congratulatory hugs from her daughters.

“I can’t wait,” she says, and you can tell she means it.

Inkster did talk long distance to her gals shortly after her press conference Sunday afternoon. We couldn’t hear the conversation, but we could see the smiles and tears on the Mississippi end of the line.

Balance is the key

Juli Inkster, a classy lady who will turn 39 later this month, is playing the best golf of her life. She is doing so, she says, because she has finally learned how to balance professional golf and motherhood. It was not easy.

The worst times were when the girls were babies – the illnesses, the sleepless nights, packing port-a-cribs, diapers, etc. Moms know. Some dads do, too. There were times when Inkster really thought about quitting the tour altogether – a drastic measure for a three-time U.S. Amateur champion who won two majors as a tour rookie.

“I wasn’t practicing enough; I wasn’t dedicated enough,” Inkster says. “I was kind of straddling the fence. Do I quit? Do I play golf? Do I quit? I just decided that this is what I really love to do – play golf.”

She was already dedicated to motherhood. She rededicated herself to golf. A strong support group – including husband, Brian, a club pro, and her parents – has helped. Still, it’s not easy.

“You worry about what they eat; you worry about homework,” Inkster says. “You worry about everything. The hardest thing is scheduling, making sure everything is taken care of and everybody is where they need to be when they need to be there.”

`I can’t even imagine’

Columbus working mom Steffanie Huffman, one of the Open’s volunteer workers, understands. Huffman, who works in managed health care, has a 17-year-old daughter, an 11-year-old son and a husband who works and lives during the week in Memphis.

“All working moms understand the emotional conflicts of balancing your career with your children’s needs,” Huffman says. “You have to juggle your life, and it’s a constant revolving door. You worry about everything.

“I can’t even imagine how somebody who does what she does can handle the emotions of it, because she has to stay so focused.”

Inkster lost that focus once. She has regained it. Once school is out, her kids travel with her. She rents condos or houses and cooks meals just like any mother would.

“I try to make it as much like home as possible,” she says. “Golf is the easy part. The real work starts when the golf is over and the mothering begins.”

All working moms will understand that part, too.

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Inkster returning to Old Waverly in late September.

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