Birdies or babies

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

Take your pick. Tees or diapers.

It seems there really can't be both in the life of a female touring pro. For the handful of local ladies who is either still on or recently came off the long and winding road of the professional circuits, there is a general consensus.

The ladies must choose between settling into family life or grinding away on tours like the Futures and Canadian Women's. For the most part, they have to give up the game at a competitive level or keep slugging it out for the love of the game, a few dollars and more heartache than reward.

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KAREEN QUALLY

This is it for Kareen Qually. This is either going to be the breakthrough year or, well, let's not even think about anything else.

"I think at this stage, it's a make-it-or-break season. Hopefully it's a make-it season," said Qually in-between a Futures Tour stop in Texas and a pro-am in Memphis.

"I think I'm close. I don't think the scores are reflecting the changes I'm seeing in my game, so hopefully that will come through later this year.

"Lori Kane didn't make it to the LPGA until she was 32, so I guess there's still hope."

Qually, now 31 and based near Sacramento, California, has spent six years on the mini-tours. In 2000, she won a Futures event in New Jersey and had her best year by earning nearly $7,000 US. A year later, she won a stop on the Canadian Women's Tour and was the Order of Merit winner.

But it's been somewhat rocky ever since.

"It's been frustrating. I felt I was on the right road and then I hit a roadblock,"said the Olds native, who missed a large portion of last year due to a wrist injury.

This year, though, Qually has altered her approach. Aggression and offensive attack have replaced caution and worry. The five-time member of Canada's national team expects the fresh game plan will find her some happiness in an often lonely world.

"That's probably the hardest part. It definitely is a vagabond lifestyle. I've been on the go since last January and my car is still in Burlington (Ontario)," said Qually, who spent the early part of this past spring playing on the South African tour.

"I usually only get home two or three times a year. The friends I've made on tour are the closest I've made in my life. You become a little family."

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HEATHER LEE

It's never been strange to see Heather Lee playing round after round at the Edmonton Country Club. But something is a little different these days.

"I'm going to keep playing right until the day I give birth," said Lee.

Lee and her husband Clint Hogue are expecting their first child in July. It's just the next logical step in their relationship.

"We met on a course that he used to be a pro at. We even played a couple of rounds on our wedding weekend."

The now-36-year-old came within a shot of earning her LPGA card in 2004. After breezing through first-stage sectionals in Palm Springs, California, Lee made it to the last weekend in Daytona Beach, Florida. With three rounds down, Lee's fourth and final round ended with a double-bogey and bogey to barely take her out of the mix.

Since then, Lee taught at the Golf Digest School in Phoenix and dabbled on the Canadian Women's Tour where she intended to play this summer. The thought of competitive golf hasn't been derailed by pregnancy.

"I'm hoping the Senior Ladies tour really develops because I'd love to play in that," said Lee. "These young guns are bigger and better now so it would be great to play with people my age. There are a couple of events now. It's small but it's definitely in the back of my mind."

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SUSAN WRIGHT-AMENDT

Getting pregnant did afford Susan Wright-Amendt the chance to hit the ball a little further down the fairway, but there isn't much time in her life for golf now that her son Jackson is all of four months old.

"I miss it terribly," said Wright-Amendt, who now lives on a ranch west of Breton with her husband Darcy.

"I'd love to be back playing tournament golf. But all of my life I wanted a family and a husband and a home and it just kind of happened for me. And I wouldn't trade it for anything. I love being a mom."

Wright-Amendt found some success in her pro career, playing five years on the Futures Tour and then winning a Canadian Women's Tour event and making the final round of the LPGA qualifying school in 2001. But never seeing the end of the rainbow finally became too much of a struggle.

"When you're not finding 100% enjoyment and the stresses that you're going through are starting to double, you start to look elsewhere and want something to change," said Wright-Amendt.

"I used to think being a mom meant you were tied down and that it was unfair. Before we had Jackson, I thought I would get right back into playing, but I'm at home with him and I get to see him smile and roll over - all the things that are special. I thought I might feel trapped at home and thinking 'What happened to me playing golf?'

"But I don't want to change anything now that he's around."

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CORINA KELEPOURIS

Four years was enough. Corina Kelepouris left the Futures Tour behind but she hasn't given up on taking some big steps on the golf course.

"It stopped being fun and I wasn't finding any success," said Kelepouris who will play in the Canadian Women's Tour this summer before heading to the LPGA Q-school.

"I needed to evaluate what I wanted and decide if I wanted to go on with golf or find a different way to go about it.

"I decided that I needed to change things up. The Futures was six months straight of playing week after week. It got to feel like it was a job and I wasn't sure if this was a job that I wanted to do. I had never felt like that before."

Kelepouris's process for regrouping was to play in fewer events and practice more. And it was during a session on a driving range in Dallas with coach Hank Haney that she found some hope. A chat with hockey coach Ken Hitchcock led to a bond that has lasted the past four years. Each summer since, Hitchcock has donated memorabilia from his various NHL and Team Canada hookups for the Fairways to Dreams Foundation's tournament in Drayton Valley, which keeps Kelepouris on course.

"The fire is now burning hotter than ever before," said the 32-year-old who will be a qualifier at the U.S. Open. "I won't set a time limit for myself as long as I can feel it going. I'm too stubborn to quit, plus I'm seeing progress."

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KIM BROZER

There have been times when Kim Brozer has put some good money in her pocket. Two years ago, she earned $9,100 US for a Futures win in New York. Last month, though, after three days battling the heat and humidity in Texas, Brozer was rewarded with a paltry $164.

Things could definitely pick up for Brozer, who splits her residency between Red Deer and Phoenix, if she finds some consistency during her second conditional stint on the LPGA tour this summer.

"I've seen the light before seven years ago so I've been down this road before, but things happened," said Brozer, who battled through injuries to win two events on the West Coast Ladies tour and qualify for the U.S. Open.

"I've been at this for 10 years but I'm only thinking year by year now. There is a sense of uncertainty and you start to question what you're doing. I want to play my way into exempt status (on the LPGA tour). It sounds far-reaching but it can be done."

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STEPHANIE DONKIN

The wait is almost killing Stephanie Donkin.

She's earned her way onto the Futures Tour, but until some space is opened up, Donkin will have to wait to play, though that's not an entirely bad thing.

"I'm anxious to get there and start playing, but my game is still coming around," said Donkin, who will also play in five Canadian Women's Tour events.

"So the extra time waiting is good in a way because once I get into those events I think I'll have everything together.

"Hopefully my game has developed by then and I'll have some experience to be ready for LPGA qualifying school. I'm really looking forward to that.

"The ultimate goal is the LPGA Tour - even if I'm only conditionally there. This is the first year I've ever been able to play 12 months out of the year so I've got my foot in the door and now I have to see where it takes me."

Since wrapping up her studies and collegiate play at Western Michigan University, Donkin has moved to Orlando, Florida, and now enjoying her first opportunity to play year-round golf. It is gradually making a difference in her game, but the lifestyle has also left a hefty tab on the table of her parents, Mark and Kathy, who still live in Edson.

"They're my sponsor," laughed Donkin, who figures the 2006 season will set her folks back about $40,000.

"I don't know how much longer they can do it so I have to start playing better. I told them that some day I'll buy them a home and they can retire.

"I'm very grateful for what they've done for me."


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