Golf isn’t the first thing on your mind if you’re a mom with a 3-month-old in tow.
Add in a 3-year-old sibling and things get more complicated. Even if you’re a member of the LPGA Tour.
So it’s understandable Jackie Stoelting has hit balls only five times over the past five months.
Last week things changed.
Her husband, Travis, the head professional at Meadowood Golf Club, got a call from Randy Hedgecock. The Vero Beach Country Club professional had an opening in this weekend’s 77th annual Grapefruit Pro-Am and wanted to know if she could participate.
“When I got the call to play it was something I could not pass up,” she told me Friday morning, adding she would bring three players from Meadowood. “So now I’m in a cram session, hitting balls.”
It's a bigger deal than you might expect, especially after what happened last year.
Grapefruit Open has amazing legacy
The event is believed to be the state’s longest-running pro-am. It has always attracted top golf professionals and other celebrities.
For a few years, the event received national attention when local country music star Jake Owen lured Jordan Spieth, the top golfer in the world at the time, Jason Day, John Daly and NASCAR star Kevin Harvick to play.
Past champions include Hall of Famer Sam Snead, major champions Mark Calcavecchia and Dow Finsterwald, and former PGA Tour winners Ken Green, Kenny Perry and Ken Duke.
The latter two will join the field again this year. It will be a rare opportunity to see Perry, 62, play, as he hasn’t competed on the PGA Champions Tour since 2021. Duke, 53, ranked 22nd on the tour this year and has become a sponsor of the pro-am, Hedgecock said.
Another big name in the event will be Nick Lindheim, 38, who will return to the PGA Tour after qualifying in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
Becoming the first, but not the last?
Stoelting, however, will break the event’s glass ceiling as its first female participant.
“Hopefully this will open the door for more women to play in this event,” said Stoelting, who a year ago expressed frustration at never having been invited to play in the event.
After all, she said then on social media, some Vero Beach Country Club members had sought to play with her in the event, but she was never officially invited.
“Almost every team that has asked me (to play with them) gets paired with a pro they do not know,” she wrote at the time. “I cannot grasp the logic of why I can’t play with people who asked me to play with them.”
Craig Dolch, TCPalm golf columnist, wrote about her frustration last year. Dolch wrote Hedgecock fills the field of 47 pros and 141 amateurs using a simple process:
“If you’re in last year, you’re in this year,” Hedgecock told Dolch, noting some teams have played together for more than 20 years. “I have a list of 20 guys who want to get in, but there are no spots. It’s pretty much the same field every year.”
This year, though, a returning team had a conflict, so he turned to Stoelting.
“It solved a lot of problems,” Hedgecock said of her willingness to play. "We're going to have a great tournament."
It also solved the optics issue Dolch raised in his column: not inviting the most successful woman golfer in Indian River County, someone who grew up here.
Getting big break after college golf
Stoelting began playing at age 4, and starred at Vero Beach High School and Florida Southern College before turning pro and winning events on the Symetra (now Epson) Tour and Big Break Florida, a Golf Channel reality show. In 2021, she won the Florida Women’s Open, held at Vero Beach's Riomar and Pointe West country clubs.
Stoelting played on the LPGA Tour full time 2015-18, before taking maternity leave for much of 2019.
She returned to the tour during COVID-shortened 2020 after a 14-month break and shot a 7-under 64 that tied for the first-round lead in the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
So she’s not too worried about this weekend.
“It’s kind of like riding a bike,” she said of her golf game. “I really have no expectations. I’m just really excited about it.”
Even though she has up to two years to return to the LPGA Tour after maternity leave, don’t expect the 36-year-old mom to go back full time.
“Having the kids and being with them is important to me,” Stoelting said, citing the challenges of competing physically at a high level, often getting up early or working late, then taking care of little ones while traveling from city to city. “I just don’t have the time or drive to do it full time.”
That doesn’t mean she’s leaving the golf course. She said she has enjoyed sharing her golf knowledge with students hoping to improve their games.
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And there will be events — from the Florida Women’s Open to U.S. Open qualifiers — where she can keep her competitive juices flowing.
“As long as my body can still walk 36 holes in one day,” she joked.
This weekend, she’ll get to take a cart, play in her hometown and go home to her husband and kids.
Not a bad gig.
This column reflects the opinion of Laurence Reisman. Support his work by subscribing to TCPalm. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, phone at 772-978-2223, Facebook.com/larryreisman or Twitter @LaurenceReisman
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Duke, Perry great: LPGA's Stoelting joins Grapefruit pro-am | Opinion