I wonder if I had a little something to do with this

April is going to be a busy golf month for me. In three weeks I will be a member of the media covering the Stanford Intl. Next week is The Masters. Can Tiger Woods win his fifth green jacket?

Before either of those events take place, there is the first major championship of the golf season, the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco. After two rounds, 2006 and 2007 player of the year Lorena Ochoa is tied for the lead. However there are 21 golfers within 5 shots of Super Mex, including Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam and Se Ri Pak who are both within three. As it stands, this tournament doesn’t look like another Ochoa runaway.

Why am I writing golf on the main board? I’ve occasionally posted here about the sloppiness in the golf media. Yesterday Golf Week’s Beth Ann Baldry wrote the following.

As far as tournament titles go among active players, Mi Hyun Kim and Rachel Hetherington have the most wins without a major at eight apiece. Michelle McGann is at seven and Paula Creamer checks in with six.

Beth Ann is one of the few people who covers the LPGA exclusively. She made two mistakes in the above.

Paula Creamer has five lifetime wins not six and Hee Won Han was totally left out. Han has six career titles and has never won an LPGA major.

This isn’t the first time Han has gotten snubbed of late. Golf World magazine and Ron Sirak left her off a list of the top 30 players for 2008. From 2002-06 Han finished as high as 4th and no lower than 14th on the LPGA money list. The reason for her drop off to 81st in 2007? Hee Won had a baby boy last June. She missed six months of the golf year as a result.

Note- Han stands at present 20th on the LPGA list, making my criticisms of Golf World and Ron Sirak sound valid. Hee Won may be even higher except she was only an alternate for a tournament in Singapore last month(Yes the LPGA plays there). Hee Won’s status for certain tournaments taking a hit because she lost time to have a child. Is that fair to golfers who are mothers also or is pregnancy to be considered like an injury. Beth Ann believes in the later, I believe the former.

I generally like Beth Ann. We’ve emailed in the past, and she’s always written me back. So I wrote her in the early a.m. yesterday and sure enough I got a reply.

Thanks for the catch. I believe ya. Was going off a list the lpga media compiled
for me but should’ve checked it myself. And I wrote about her fifth win at
Fields so that error should’ve stopped me.

Golfweek fixed the mistakes at their website.

Yesterday Hee Won went out and shot a 69. Putting her two shots behind Ochoa going into the final two rounds. What does Beth Ann Badry write about from the tournament?

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – It’s tough being a mom on tour. It’s tough trying to be a world-class athlete, world-class parent and world-class wife simultaneously.

But imagine how hard it would be to leave your baby behind for months at a time. To travel the world playing a sport you love while the one you brought into this world is at home with the in-laws in Korea.

Welcome to Hee-Won Han’s life on the LPGA. Han, a six-time tour winner, took off most of 2007 to give birth to her first son, Dale. She’s back on tour full-time this season, trying to win her first major title at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Han carded a 3-under 69 April 4 and sits two shots behind leaders Lorena Ochoa and Heather Young. She tied for sixth here in 2006.

“It’s pretty hard,” said Han, who won’t see her son again until after the U.S. Women’s Open. “I miss him, but he is with grandparents so he is fine.”

Han’s husband, Hyuk Son, said they felt it was too much traveling with an infant by plane this year and worried that language barriers might pose a problem if Dale fell ill on the road.

Juggling playing professional golf and motherhood is no easy task. Traveling with a small child week in and week out is a great deal of work. I admire the 30 or so LPGA golfers who can do it, not just Hee Won. Last summer Tiger Woods had a baby, and the media(golf and otherwise) was oohing and ahhing over it. To the point one golf writer wrote a blog post wondering if Tiger changes his baby’s diapers. God help us. Han on the other hand won’t see her son Dale for some three months. She keeps in touch via phone calls to her mother-in-law. I bet Hee Won misses her son very much.

I wonder if my little email exchange with Beth Ann prompted her to write the article and correct the misperceptions some have about Han in the golf media. For Beth Ann writes-

Clews(Her caddy) seemed slightly startled that a media member was inquiring about his longtime boss. As far as top-10 players go, Han easily ranks as the most consistently overlooked.

Is that a criticism by a member of the golf media at another golf writer? Hmm…I thought I only do that. Maybe I struck a nerve with Beth Ann. She could have written about almost anyone on the leaderboard, but she chose Han. I may write her and ask or talk with her when the Stanford comes to town later this month. We’ll both be there.

In the meantime, I say go Hee Won. I want Golf World and Ron Sirak to have to eat crow for snubbing her this year. The rest of Beth Ann’s article on Hee Won Han is below the fold.

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Han checks in daily with her in-laws by phone and said her mother plans to be on the road with she and Dale next season. Only three active LPGA players have won tournaments after giving birth. Han should add herself to that list relatively soon. Motherhood seems to have mellowed out a laid-back Han even more.

“I see all the signs of her being as good a player as she ever was and maybe even better,” said her longtime caddie, Shaun Clews. “She should be a major winner.”

Clews seemed slightly startled that a media member was inquiring about his longtime boss. As far as top-10 players go, Han easily ranks as the most consistently overlooked. When Han walked out of the scoring tent this afternoon, two members of the Korean media spoke to her along with one U.S. reporter (yours truly). Around a dozen people followed Han and Aussie Rachel Hetherington on the back nine, and many of them were personal friends.

“I’ve always thought she was the most underrated player out here for sure,” said Clews, Han’s looper since 2002. “She’s never put in any kind of equations as far as favorites are concerned. Sometimes you get lost in the Creamer, Annika, Ochoa dust.”

Part of the problem is that Han is inherently shy. The 29-year-old doesn’t seek the limelight or talk up a storm. Sure there’s often a language barrier, but she’s even-keel in her mannerisms as well.

Clews considers the laid-back approach a huge key to her consistent career. Consider that Han has finished in the top 10 on the LPGA Money List four of the last five years. The only blemish on her resume came last year when she finished 81st, but that’s because of Dale.

To date there are 45 Korean players on tour, including a mind-boggling number of Kims, Lees and Parks. But there’s only one named Han. There are three Korean players who are married (Han, Birdie Kim and Gloria Park). And only one Korean mom.

In other words, despite her shy personality, Han does distinguish herself from the crowd.

Hyuk Son, or “Sonny” as he’s called, is a retired professional baseball player. The couple makes their home in California, and Sonny is working with renowned coach Tom House and the USC baseball team to develop his skills as a pitching coach.

“(Dale) is big and not crying,” Hyuk Son said. “So we’re doing really good.”

There’s a level of respect among the Korean crowd for what Han has accomplished so far. Even those younger players who aren’t thinking about marriage yet are looking at what life might look like down the road.

“I would like to be like Hee-Won, but I don’t think I can be a mom and a wife and pro golfer quite yet,” Korea’s Jeong Jang said. “I’m not ready for two jobs.”

The 2007 Kraft Nabisco was Han’s last event before giving birth. She took five months off to care for her newborn son and then began practicing in September to defend at the Honda LPGA Thailand event and play in the Mitchell Tournament of Champions.

Both Clews and Han agree the Dinah Shore course suits her game well. She’s not overly long. In fact, Han and her instructor are working on lowering her ball flight to get more roll on her drives.

“Every year the distance is getting longer and longer,” Han said. “Lots of young players coming in and they are getting better. That’s what I try hard.”

Han hooked her drive on the par-5 18th into the water Friday and finished with bogey. Ochoa didn’t capitalize on a number of birdie putts in the afternoon and stayed close to the crowd, giving Han an excellent chance to move in quietly over the weekend. Every week Han is on tour, more baby rust falls off. She might not be running on all cylinders this early in the year, but moms have an uncanny way of making the most of what they’ve got.

“It’s not like she needs more game to win a major,” Clews said. “She just needs the confidence and the belief to win one.”

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