HOPKINS, Minn. – The temptation was there.
Hit by a brief moment of nostalgia, Hilary Lunke (nee Homeyer) momentarily thought about pulling up the 2013 U.S Women’s Open application form. Entering the final year of the 10-year exemption for her Cinderella-like playoff victory at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, Lunke, now 34, realizes there likely won’t be another Women’s Open in her future, especially one with a free pass.
So taking a family vacation with husband Tylar and their three young daughters to Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., seemed like an idyllic way to spend a week in late June.
Then Lunke, whose only victory in seven LPGA Tour seasons was that 2003 Women’s Open, rationalized why she hasn’t competed in a Women’s Open since permanently retiring from professional golf in 2008.
“As much as I want to do this, it would take a lot of effort,” said Lunke, who last played a Women’s Open in 2008 at Interlachen Country Club in her hometown of Edina, Minn. “I’m still nursing a baby. I’ve played 10 rounds in five years. Now suddenly I’m going to go play six rounds in a week? It sounded good in theory. But for me to go play golf right now – it would take a tremendous amount of effort.”
These days, golf is not on Lunke’s short list.
In many ways, Lunke’s life is more chaotic now than when she played the LPGA Tour. Last October, she gave birth to Linnea, who joined sisters Greta (5) and Marin (3). Someday, they might make for a great foursome on the course, but now they require the lion’s share of Lunke’s attention, whether it’s cleaning up toys, changing diapers or driving them to pre-school.
“It’s a full-time job,” says Lunke.
Yet this is what Lunke always wanted. Even after winning the Women’s Open, Lunke never saw herself playing professionally into her 40s. Having a family was more important than collecting trophies.
She lauds the likes of two-time Women’s Open champion Juli Inkster and 2006 Women’s Open runner-up Pat Hurst, who have managed to balance tour and family life. Lunke found it difficult to be away from home once Greta was born in October 2007.
The inability to compete consistently well against the elite LPGA Tour players also gave Lunke reason to retire. In 115 LPGA Tour starts, Lunke’s lone top-10 finish was that 2003 Women’s Open victory.
“If every week was a U.S. [Women’s] Open, I probably would still be playing,” said Lunke. “I was always comfortable playing in USGA events where par was a good score. On tour, [the Women’s Open] was a welcome week for me. We were so used to playing wide-open fairways in sopping-wet conditions and just bombing it out there as far as you can.”
Inside her modest suburban Minneapolis home, there are little reminders of Lunke’s past life on tour. She never purchased a replica of the Women’s Open trophy. Her gold medal is filed away in a box and there aren’t any framed articles or magazine covers. Someday she plans to create a scrapbook for her children to see.
Most of the walls are filled with pictures of family, although there’s one showing Lunke teeing off at Turnberry in Scotland and another with her father, Bill, caddieing for her at the 1997 Minnesota Women’s State Amateur just before she entered Stanford University. Downstairs in the basement on a shelf above the jumble of toys, Lunke has one prized moment from the 2003 Women’s Open; it’s a framed photo of her winning putt taken from an angle that shows husband/caddie Tylar fist-pumping beside the green.
Lunke’s children were unaware what Mommy did until one day they were in the living room when the television happened to be tuned to Golf Channel, which was airing one of its Top 10 shows.
“I didn’t even know it was airing,” said Lunke. “The kids were like, ‘Mom, that’s you.’ They saw the trophy and me doing the fist pump. They still mostly don’t know anything about it.”
Neither do most of the mothers Lunke regularly mingles with. Lunke tries to avoid mentioning it, but occasionally the subject is broached, and usually it’s the husband who recalls the dramatic victory.
“If they ask what I used to do, I say I was a professional golfer,” said Lunke. “The response is then, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ Most don’t know what that means. The next thing you know they’re mentioning it to their husband. Then he’ll go, ‘Hilary Lunke! What? Do you know she won the U.S. Open?’ ”
Professional golf wasn’t a top priority when Lunke graduated from Stanford in 2001. The USGA had recently passed a rule allowing a player to go through Q-School as an amateur. So Bill Homeyer, who had played collegiately at the University of Minnesota before going into the insurance business, told his daughter, “it was like having a free swing in the batter’s box.”
Lunke, a four-time All-American at Stanford and a member of the 2000 USA Curtis Cup and Women’s World Amateur Teams, entered Q-School with the caveat that if she didn’t gain full LPGA Tour status, she would look for another vocation. She earned conditional status and decided to play in 2002.
Just before her rookie season she married Tylar, who also played at Stanford. His first job post-graduation was with a California-based golf company and he caddied for Hilary part-time over the next few seasons.
He was on the bag when she won the biggest prize in women’s golf, defeating her 2000 Curtis Cup roommate Angela Stanford and veteran Kelly Robbins in that 18-hole playoff at Pumpkin Ridge in suburban Portland, Ore.
That would be Lunke’s one celebrated moment as a pro.
Tylar deferred going to business school at the University of Texas for a year, so he could spend time on tour with Hilary, however, the highs from that week could never be duplicated.
“For the U.S. Open to be your first victory, I think a lot of people dump a lot of expectations and pressure on you that you really don’t deserve,” said Stanford. “I’ve always said there’s a reason for everything, and if I had been in Hilary’s shoes, then the same thing could have happened to me. We were both really young and [winning a major] changes your world.”
By the spring of 2008, Lunke began to think about retiring. While playing in the Kraft Nabisco Championship in Rancho Mirage, Calif., five months after Greta was born, Lunke suddenly felt guilty. Even knowing that her parents were tending to Greta, she didn’t want to leave her toddler.
“All I wanted to do was get off the course and be with her,” she said.
Lunke made only five LPGA Tour starts in 2008, missing the cut in each one. Being president of the LPGA Tour and a mother was taking its toll.
“I realized [professional golf] is not a part-time job,” she said. “It hit me that this is more than I thought it would be.”
A year later, Lunkewas pregnant with her second child, leaving little doubt about a possible return. She briefly thought about entering the 2010 Women’s Open at Oakmont.
“You don’t just show up not having played golf in 2½ years,” said Lunke. “That doesn’t sound like fun. We had a 2-year-old and a baby and no nanny. How could I practice? It doesn’t sound like the best vacation with my family. Once I skipped that one, it became too big of a hurdle to go back.”
Getting away for any vacation can be challenging, especially with Tylar’s hectic work schedule as a portfolio analyst for a large investment bank.
Hilary’s parents split time between Minneapolis and Arizona and occasionally assist with babysitting.
That allows Lunke to travel to an annual charity pro-am each April in Houston. Her good friend and ex-LPGA player Kim Bauer brings in several current and former tour golfers for a one-day scramble to raise money for the Boys & Girls Clubs. For Lunke, it’s her one chance to reconnect with LPGA players and for at least 48 hours, decompress from being a full-time mom. It’s also a chance to reaffirm why she is no longer a regular on the LPGA Tour.
“At the pro-am there were a bunch of players who had taken a red-eye in from Hawaii and then were flying to Dallas [for the next LPGA Tour stop],” said Lunke. “I thought, it’s so crazy for me to go and play one day and I can’t believe they’re doing this. It’s so foreign to think I even did that.
“As hard as it is for me to travel, my thought was … ‘Oh man, it’s kind of nice.’ You’re staying up with friends and breakfast is already here for us [in the morning]. But I was literally gone a day and was thrown back into motherhood on Tuesday morning. It’s a shock to your system when all you hear is, ‘Mama, mama, mama!’
“It’s one of those things that seems like a former life. I’m in such a different place now.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.