Tiger Woods swept his son, Charlie, up into his arms as he walked off the 18th green at Augusta National Golf Club after winning the Masters Tournament in 2019. The moment was enough to make the parents who were looking on feel a lump rise in their throat and their hearts swell in their chest.
Becoming a parent is a life-changing experience that gives new meaning to the day’s comings and goings. For an athlete who becomes a parent, the opportunity to compete in front of their child, let alone win in front of them, gives their achievements a deeper meaning.
Great champions find a higher purpose in playing for something, or someone, other than themselves. But it’s not an opportunity often presented in golf, except for those lucky enough to compete in college or to qualify for a team event like the Solheim or Ryder Cup. Golf is largely a solitary pursuit. However, the women who have become mothers while competing on the LPGA Tour have a unique opportunity to compete with a higher purpose by playing for their children.
Michelle Wie West, Stacy Lewis and Brittany Lang are among more than a dozen mothers who compete with a child in tow on the LPGA Tour. And they’ve each said that their return to the Tour after giving birth was largely motivated by the desire to have their child see them compete.
“I’m still hungry to play well,” Lang said about returning to the Tour following the birth of her daughter, Shay. “I would like to get back out there, do well and have (my daughter, Shay) see that.”
But the road back to winning form, both mentally and physically, isn’t easy, even for a major champion like Lang. It has been a process and one that Lang, quite admirably, has been very open about discussing despite it being a topic most women have shied away from.
Brittany and her husband, Kevin, struggled for three years to conceive and explored all the available options. Once the couple decided to pursue invitro fertilization, commonly known as IVF, Lang got pregnant on her own shortly after calling to set up the appointment. Lang continued to play on Tour late into her pregnancy and gave birth in January of 2020.
Lang was forced to deliver via C-section, unlike many of her counterparts on Tour. It wasn’t long before Lang felt isolated at home during the winter months in Texas. She faced an extended recovery due to her C-section and soon began having thoughts and feelings she’d never experienced before. She was diagnosed with postpartum depression. Lang sought treatment and spoke with friends who had faced similar challenges since becoming a mom. Knowing there were others who shared similar experiences helped Lang make a quick recovery and she committed to telling her story to help other new moms who felt alone.
“I always call my mom, but I have a bunch of girlfriends out here going through the same thing and trying to compete, and so it’s really helpful to talk to them,” Lang said about her support system among the growing number of moms on Tour. “And if you’ve had rough days or rough weeks or rough travel, they’ve been through it and so it just helps a lot.”
In addition to the mental hurdles of becoming a new mom, Lang has been quite candid about the physical challenges that come with trying to swing a golf club while recovering from a C-section. She says she’d often take walks with her mom and started out walking the length of a short par 3 of about 100 yards. Gradually she’d walk a mile or two, then she began to run again.
Her return to golf followed a similar, slow and steady path. Towards the end of her pregnancy, it became too difficult to take full swings so she would just putt and practice her short game. After giving birth, she says her routine was the same. Lang says the increased focus on her short game made her sharp around the greens and she gradually worked her way up to swinging her longer irons and woods.
But the beginning of Lang's next chapter, as a traveling mom on Tour, was made all the more difficult by the coronavirus pandemic. Three months after Lang gave birth, the Tour went on hiatus in March 2020. She returned, along with the Tour, in July of that year and embarked on her new routine with Shay as her travel companion. With the help of the Smuckers Child Development Center, which provides daily childcare services for playing mothers on Tour, Lang finished T6 in her return and looked to have the whole traveling-mom-on-tour thing figured out.
“I think it’s important for Shay to travel with me and see what I’ve been doing my whole life,” Lang said about getting back out on Tour. “Not that being a stay-at-home mom isn’t rewarding and difficult – I have a lot of newfound respect for stay-at-home moms – but I think it’s important for her to see what I’ve been doing so I want to keep playing and keep traveling with her.”
Lang, and other playing mothers on Tour, have found a higher purpose in not just playing for their children but also exposing them to other successful women who make their life traveling the world as professional athletes. It’s an opportunity for the champions of today to show the champions of tomorrow that there doesn’t have to be a choice between chasing a dream or having a family. Great champions know that both are possible.
For 20 years, Lang played for herself. Now, she plays for Shay. It’s been a welcome change for the new mom who was eager to shift her focus away from herself and her golf. As a mom, Lang ends her day at the golf course wondering about her daughter, whether she had what she needed, and if she might want to play when they get back to their hotel room. Regardless of how she played that day, Lang sweeps Shay up in her arms when she picks her daughter up from daycare. Being a parent is a life-changing experience and one that has given new meaning to Lang’s career.
“I want her to be around all the successful LPGA women and the family here because it’s great for her to see that you can have a family and you can pursue things,” Lang said about Shay. “It’s great for her to see me succeed and be out here, but also all the other women. I think it’s a great environment.”