By Keely Levins
Suzann Pettersen. Photo by Golffile
Remember how surprisingly low Suzann Pettersen’s world ranking was when she was selected as a captain’s pick for the 2019 European Solheim Cup Team? She was the No. 620 player in the world. Of course, there was a reason why her ranking had fallen so much: She had been away from golf for more than a year on maternity leave. It’s something all of the new mothers on the LPGA Tour have dealt with. Stacy Lewis, for example, started her maternity leave in 2018 ranked No. 33, and when she ready to compete again six months later, she was No. 58.
The USGA has taken action to prevent players’ time away from prohibiting them from competing in their championships. With the governing body’s new policy, formally revealed on Tuesday, female golfers will now have their Rolex Women’s Golf Ranking or World Amateur Golf Ranking "frozen" once they go on maternity leave. If that ranking earns a player an exemption into a USGA event while they’re away, the player will receive the exemption into the following year’s championship.
The USGA’s new policy also helps players navigate participation in USGA championships in other ways. New parents, female or male, who have either qualified for or have been exempt into a USGA championship can defer playing in that event for one year while out on maternity or paternity. There is also an option to apply for an extended deferral for a second year, which the USGA would decide on a situational basis.
USGA officials worked with players to come up with this new policy, notably Lewis, who gave birth to her daughter in 2018. After coming back from maternity leave, Lewis was granted an exemption into the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open when her World Ranking would not have allowed her automatic entry into the championship.
“I was thrilled when the USGA asked me to participate in the process to update the policy,” Lewis said in a release. “Last year, I experienced the challenges that new parents often face and was fortunate that the USGA worked with me for my circumstances surrounding the U.S. Women’s Open. As players, we want a fair and inclusive policy, and that is exactly what this reflects.”