SOCCER STARS MIA HAMM, ABBY WAMBACH, JULIE FOUDY, AND TISHA VENTURINI-HOCH PLAY WITH LYDIA KO AND MARINA ALEX IN PALOS VERDES PRO-AM
PALOS VERDES ESTATES, CALIFORNIA | Golf is normally a silent sport, but Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Julie Foudy, and Tisha Venturini-Hoch could be heard yelling and high-fiving in true soccer-player fashion across Palos Verdes Golf Club as they joined Lydia Ko and Marina Alex in the Wednesday pro-am.
The four legends who still keep in touch used to play golf during their soccer days when they had more free time without kids. Foudy, two-time FIFA Women's World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, said, "We just never play golf anymore. I've played golf once in the last seven years."
Abby Wambach, who held the international goal record for men and women until 2020, said, "I'm grateful that Lydia Ko is on our team. There's nothing like playing in a scramble format. This is just fun to be out here with old teammates and being able to hack it up."
"I love watching Lydia play," said Mia Hamm, the former face of the Women's United Soccer Association and all-time leader of assists on the U.S. Women's National Team. Foudy chimed in, "I like the Korda sisters too, Nelly and Jessica."
Hamm now lives on Manhattan Beach and regularly plays golf at Rolling Hills Country Club. The rest of the Olympians were a bit rusty but had a blast while reminiscing on their soccer careers.
The best part of the female-athlete experience, according to Wambach, is being on a winning team around amazing people. "That's the thing I'm most proud of. Obviously scoring goals was fun. Winning championships is also fun but doing it with your friends is what it's all about. The life-changing goal for me was against Brazil late in the game of the 2011 World Cup. I also scored a goal in 2004 to send these ladies off with a gold medal. So that was a big deal."
While Tisha Venturini-Hoch, gold medalist in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and a world champion in the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, still plays 6v6 soccer matches for fun, Hamm, Wambach, and Foudy rarely think about playing anymore.
"It takes a lot for me to miss it. A beautiful field and lots of fans with a crazy crowd," said Foudy.
Wambach said, "When I was unfit, I was a subpar soccer player, so I'm terrible anytime I try to play soccer (now). It's not even fun."
Unlike high intensity sports such as soccer, golf is one of the few sports you can pick up at any age and play for decades.
The four legends joked about sore shoulders, hips, and ankles from years of striking soccer balls as they roamed the Palos Verdes Golf Club. But, Abby said, "Mia Hamm has a very low handicap, and so I aspire to be like her, as I did, my whole career."
A lot has changed since the four of them dominated world soccer arenas and drew greater attention to women's sports. In February, the U.S. Soccer Federation won a $24 million lawsuit settlement over unequal pay for U.S. women soccer stars.
Wambach said, "I think that gaining respect has always been and will be one of the biggest challenges of women's sports. At the beginning of my career, Mia was still on the team, and it was really incredible to see the fandom and the popularity of soccer. Then, as my career continued forward, it increasingly got more popular to what we see today."
Women's sports and salaries are rising as the NWSL increased the minimum salary to $35,000 this year, and the LPGA sees the highest overall prize money to date.
"I think that the NWSL is a really interesting data point in terms of being able to see where it's come in 10 years, and I also know that there's still so much opportunity. When you look at the landscape of professional sports, women's sports have so much more potential for growth than men's sports," Abby said.
She added, "I still think there's so much more growth not just in pay but in treatment, viewership, media opportunities, and sponsorship dollars. There's still a long way to go."