Sydnee Michaels, 35, returns to U.S. Women’s Open a mom, a pageant queen and a businesswoman

Sydnee Michaels’ 6-year-old daughter Isla had her bags packed for the U.S. Women’s Open long before it was time to head to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

“Mommy, I want you to win every tournament,” Isla said.

Isla’s end-of-year-party for kindergarten fell on the Friday before championship week at Lancaster Country Club, perfect timing for the big trip.

Michaels, 35, is a part-time player on the LPGA these days, and the U.S. Women’s Open qualifier is the only event she’s played in so far in 2024. The former UCLA player shot 69-71 to medal at the The Club at Admiral’s Cove in Jupiter, Florida, earlier this month to qualify for her seventh U.S. Women’s Open and the first in eight years.

Sydnee Michaels poses with daughter Isla. (courtesy photo)

“It meant a lot to me, actually,” said Michaels of qualifying for her favorite event again, not long after the death of her father, Alex.

He was on the bag when Michaels qualified for her first U.S. Women’s Open at age 17. She’ll carry a photo in her yardage book this week of them together at the Murrieta Valley Golf Range, where she grew up playing in Southern California.

Michaels, the youngest of eight children, was a champion tap dancer and competitive figure skater before her father sat her down in his office at age 7 and explained that she was going to be too tall to be an Olympic figure skater.

Although no one in the family played golf, Alex thought the ancient game sounded like a good choice.

“He basically was like, ‘I think women’s golf is going to be as popular as women’s tennis by the time you’re an adult, and I think that could be a good career for you,’ ” said Michaels. “He and my mom just literally signed me up for golf lessons at my local driving range. Here I am – 28 years later.”

Michaels has since moved across the country to south Florida and now works as a teaching instructor at High Ridge Country Club in Boynton Beach. A two-time winner on the Epson Tour, Michaels first earned full LPGA status for the 2012 season. Five years later, she was dealing with a bad back at the same time she was pregnant with Isla. With her maternity leave cut short, she went back on tour in 2018, four months after giving birth.

Michaels called that season one of the hardest years of her life, missing cuts by the slimmest of margins as she routinely got up in the middle of the night to care for Isla.

Michaels, who takes responsibility for what happened, said there was some miscommunication with the tour on her options for maternity leave that forced to come back earlier than planned.

In 2019, the tour expanded its options for moms, giving them up to two years after the child’s birth to return to the tour. The new policy also removed the 10-tournament limit players once had during a leave year.

Michaels, who petitioned the tour, did not benefit from the changes.

“Now the girls can take as much time as they need, more of a leeway,” she said, “as it should be. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know how your body is going to respond.”

Michaels lost full status after that difficult 2018 season and had back surgery the following year. As she struggled with what she called an identity crisis, she signed up for a beauty pageant on a whim, looking for something to fill the competitive void.

After being awarded the Ms. Hawaii 2019 title (her mother is half Hawaiian), Michaels went on to compete in the 2019 Ms. America Pageant.

“It was so hard,” she said. “I have a whole new respect for people who do pageants. The amount of preparation that went into this thing – I was floored.”

As Michaels continues to compete on the tour on a part-time basis (she played in five LPGA events last year), she also started a women’s athletic apparel company for tennis and golf, ISLA Sport, named after her biggest fan.

Isla will be one of the many kids utilizing the LPGA’s daycare program this week at Lancaster Country Club, where mom finished tied for 20th back in 2015.

Stacy Lewis, the last mom to win on the LPGA in 2020, believes the tour’s maternity policy is moving in the right direction. She’d like to see a company step up soon to replace Smucker’s as the tour’s daycare sponsor. The LPGA’s childcare program has operated without a sponsor for all of 2024.

“It’s disappointing that we don’t have someone on board right now,” said Lewis, a former World No. 1 and the current U.S. Solheim Cup captain.

Another strong week at Lancaster would go a long way toward Michael’s desire to have another full season on the LPGA. And while she’s ranked 1,167th in the world, she’s even thinking that a magical run could potentially land her a captain’s pick on this year’s Solheim Cup team.

“If I didn’t think I could compete, then I probably wouldn’t torture myself,” she said with a laugh, “but I can still play.”

While the one-time beauty queen and businesswoman doesn’t see herself wanting to compete full-time on tour for the next five years, she would like to give herself that opportunity.

Mostly, she’d just like the chance to leave on her own terms.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek