Professional golfer and mother of two Karine Icher locked up a spot in the upcoming U.S. Open with a tournament win perhaps fueled by her frustrations with her sport’s maternity leave policy.
The French athlete gave birth in November and went on leave, but her absence from the sport meant that she was not able to secure an invitation to the Open. Instead, she had to get a spot the hard way: by winning a qualifying tournament.
The United States Golf Association announced a new maternity leave policy earlier this year in which new mothers on the tour would be able to take time away from the course and not lose the ranking they held prior to expanding their family—an issue Serena Williams notably dealt with when she returned to tennis in 2018. According to the Golf Channel, Icher was one of the golfers at the forefront of this change by lobbying for new rules.
However, Icher won’t be benefiting since the new leave policy took effect after she had already given birth and started her leave. She requested a special exception be made, but was denied—although requests from other mothers, including one who gave birth within a week of Icher, were approved.
This isn’t the first trouble she’s had after having a baby. In 2011, Icher made the U.S. Open, but couldn’t compete after welcoming that first child—and wasn’t able to get a spot the next year either due to having taken maternity leave.
“The USGA is changing their rules for next year, but they’re already applying them to this year, after the deadline for entering the U.S. Women’s Open has passed,” Icher told the Golf Channel. “I don’t understand how that’s fair to do, after entries were closed.”
LPGA tour operations officer Heather Daly-Donofrio explained that Icher’s request was denied because it might “impact other members negatively.” But she did acknowledge how important Icher’s voice was for creating the new policy.
“She was helpful through the whole process of making maternity leave changes,” Daly-Donofrio said. “I can see how that frustrates her, where you’re an agent of change, but you aren’t reaping the full benefits of the change. It’s very emotional and personal, and I understand that.”
Despite this, Icher was still able to earn her way back into the major tournament by winning a qualifier. But she is still concerned about issues other moms are going to have with their returns from leave going forward.
“With this baby boom, a lot of players are learning how hard it is to come back after having a baby.”
And it shouldn't be. In any profession.