Neither Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In initiative nor Susan Faludi’s criticism of Sandberg’s proposed corporate success track for women offers much guidance for women who are navigating the challenging terrain of a career in professional golf, and who hope also to enjoy motherhood and a rich personal life.
Young women just beginning their pro golf careers might look to 42-year old Rachel Hetherington for one an alternative to Sandberg’s Lean In model of career success. Hetherington is returning to competitive golf at the 2015 ALPG Oates Victorian Open in February after a four-year “retirement” from a pro golf career that brought her 62 top-10 finishes and eight Tour victories, including three playoff wins over Annika Sorenstam, in favor of something we might describe as The Mommy Track.
Like Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa, who also stepped away from competition in order to focus time and energy on family life, Rachel Hetherington has stayed close to the game and the golf industry. But there are differences in the post-competition paths these three golf stars have forged.
Sorenstam’s version of The Mommy Track is diverse and multi-faceted. With ongoing pro golf ties and a strong public presence in the industry, Sorenstam has become a businesswoman and her Lean In circle revolves around the core team that supported her career in competitive golf.
Ochoa has followed a more conventional Mommy Track focused on family life and her children. Golf has become a vehicle for leveraging her charitable initiatives.
Hetherington’s return to competition, however limited, represents a new variation on The Mommy Track, and one that could well open up a career alternative for women who can’t envision balancing the demands of a touring pro golfer with the demands of motherhood. She’s stepped back for a few years, established a business venture in the industry, and begun raising a child. Her nuclear family forms the core of her Lean In Circle.
Whether women pro golfers choose, as Juli Inkster and Catriona Matthew and Christie Kerr have, to actively combine a career in competitive golf with motherhood, or to prioritize motherhood over the demands of a touring pro golfer is a deeply personal decision. But Rachel Hetherington’s return to competition signals that these choices are not absolute and final, that there can be a flexibility to the choices women make. Hetherington’s forging an exciting new path many young women athletes will surely watch closely as they consider their own futures.
Elizabeth Bethel is a writer, sociologist, and an enthusiastic golfer who believes there is much to be learned about social life and individual character from playing the game of golf. Follow Beth online on her blog, Staying in the Short Grass.