A month ago, Jackie Stoelting finished tied for third in the Florida Women’s Open at Bradenton Country Club, across the Sunshine State from her home in Vero Beach. Stoelting was one of many players who used their home-state opens as tune-ups for an LPGA Tour return. But the 34-year-old had a little more rust to knock off than most. Her absence from the Tour was longer but also a lot more rewarding than those forced away due to COVID-19.
Stoelting, who fired a 7-under 64 in the opening round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship on Friday to share the early lead, has been out of competition for 14 months, in part because of the pandemic, but mostly because of parenthood. Last October Jackie and her husband Travis welcomed their son, Baron Errol Stoelting.
This week, 10-month-old Baron became the latest addition to the Smucker’s LPGA Child Development Center on the LPGA Tour.
“I feel great,” Stoelting said after posting seven birdies and no bogeys at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Ark. “It's been 14 months since my last round out here (on Tour) so I didn't really have many expectations. But I also have an extremely different perspective on life now that I'm a mom. So, I just was out here really trying to have fun and take it one shot at a time.”
Golf isn’t like riding a bike. You can forget, especially after a long layoff and the inevitable changes that come with childbirth.
“I think I picked up (my game) from (where it was at) Q-Series two years ago, because last year playing pregnant was a lot harder than I’d imagined, physically,” Stoelting said. “I was just exhausted. My swing was not there and I just wasn't hitting it as far. So, I felt like I picked it up from Q Series two years ago where finished top 10. I just kind of tried to remember that event and put myself back there.”
Then she smiled and said, “Two years went by just like that.”
If the COVID shutdown had an upside for Stoelting, it was that she got to spend quality time at home with Baron without losing too much ground on Tour. “I was pretty much in quarantine the last 11 months with a child anyway,” she said. “You know, it's been difficult not being able to take him anywhere and really spending a lot a lot of time at home. Fortunately, I live at our golf course, so my mom has really been helpful to come over and watch my son so I can go practice.
“I don't put nearly as much time into practicing as I used to. But I've always been a quality over quantity and really just try and not overthink it. So, I told my caddie I was 50/50, really going to see how this week went. It went above my expectations so I'm happy to be here and playing well.”
It’s a familiar story for any working mom. You take time away from the job to be with your baby. Then, when the time comes to return to work, you’re torn between the job you need to re-focus on and the child you feel guilty leaving in the care of others. Thankfully, the Smucker’s LPGA Child Development Center has been a staple on the LPGA Tour for decades. New moms feel as comfortable with the process as any working mother could.
“It's been great,” Stoelting said. “I flew (to Northwest Arkansas) on Tuesday so that was my first flight with my son. And my mom came to help this week. We kind of eased him in. On Wednesday he just went in (to the Smucker’s center) for an hour and a half. He did great with the drop off, and I guess after ten minutes he looked around and realized he didn't recognize anyone and just lost it.
“But then (Thursday) he did great, and he's been there ever since I think 6:00 this morning when my mom dropped him off. He napped for them. I was really worried he wouldn't nap, and I would get a fussy baby. But it sounds like he just finished napping and we're going to go have some lunch.”
Beyond getting a happy baby back at the end of the day, Stoelting realized another benefit of being a mom on Tour.
“I think the great thing with having my child here, is in the past I would've sat there and looked at scores and then just sat in my room not knowing what to do,” she said. “Now I have a great distraction. And my husband's actually flying in this afternoon. So, I'm just going to have some time with my family and then sleep in when my son sleeps in tomorrow.”That’s all any working mom could want.