Ahead of their LPGA returns after maternity leave German players Caroline Masson and Sophia Popov give insight into their new lives as LPGA Moms

This week the LPGA Tour tees it up in California for the FIR HILLS SERI PAK Championship, the tour has returned to American soil after its first Asian swing of the season. Amongst the 144 strong field will be two first-time LPGA Moms.

Caroline Masson welcomed a son Benton David McDede with husband Jason on April 29th 2023, whilst fellow German Sophia Popov welcomed daughter Maya Mae Mehles with husband Max on June 6th 2023.

Whilst Popov made her professional return at the Aramco Team Series - Tampa at the beginning of the month, this will be Masson's first time as a Mom.

On Wednesday both players took questions from the LPGA communications team and assembled golf media, covering a wide range of areas around motherhood, from changing their perspective to getting back into shape. It's a very insightful and honest account from both players.

Caro, this is your first event back since giving birth. How excited are you to have this event and to re-debut for 2024?

Caroline Masson: I'm extremely excited. It's been such a fun time off golf, and obviously having Benton and spending the first few months with him at home. It's always been a goal of mine to come back and travel as a family with my husband who caddies for Nelly (Korda). For us to be able to do this, the three of us go on the road and make new memories, start this new adventure together, is really cool.

Obviously it's a little bit of a new perspective starting to play again. I think it's better than before for sure. I put in a lot of work, so I'm just excited to get out there and hopefully enjoy any golf.

Sophia Popov Aramco team Series
Sophia Popov Aramco Team Series - Tampa - image credit LET/Mark Runnacles

Sophia, you made your debut in Tampa on the Ladies European Tour. What was it like getting back out?

Sophia Popov: A lot of what Caro just said. It was very exciting to have it be a little bit different travelling with Maya, with my mom, and kind of having a whole crew and try to figure out the schedule.

I really just enjoyed playing. I saw Maya every now and then, which was kind of cool on the course. It was a team event and I played with Bronte (Law), who is a long-time friend of mine, so that was very easy going and very fun. All in all, kind of cool way to start the season for me.

Caro, what has it been like getting back into that competitive mindset and getting ready for another competitive event?

CM: Yeah, not easy. I honestly always had so much respect for all the moms on tour. It just doubled or tripled in the last few months. You're not only getting adjusted to having a baby and managing life with a baby, but to come back on tour and put in all that work.

I thought it was really challenging physically to get back into golf shape. I hadn't really touched a club in a year, so kind of started at what felt like zero. It's been not so easy, but a cool challenge as well.

It’s kind of almost refreshing after I played for 13 years to get a little bit of a break and get a little bit of a new perspective, and appreciation for what we've been doing. It gets repetitive. Year after year you go to the same places. After a while you don't appreciate it as much. So just to build up that excitement, putting in the work, seeing the process and really getting a little bit better every day and every week has been really fun preparing for this.

Sophia Popov
Sophia Popov - 2020 AIG Women's Open Champion - image credit The R&A

Sophia, for you, we heard from a lot of moms that come back to the tour and play again professionally after taking some time off to give birth and kind of reset. Do you feel that?

SP: Honestly, it kept reminding me of what's really important. That's important. I love to hear the cooing, the sounds.

Just kind of to what Caro said, it is so hard to get back into playing shape. I would call her after like four months, five months post partum and I'm like, I feel horrible. Like I'm a total noodle. I can't swing the golf club. My body is so out of shape. How am I ever going to be the same again?

I was really nervous. Everything changed, my body, everything. I was like, man, this is what it's like? All these moms already on tour, I totally underestimated what it's like to come back, figure out a schedule to play. But at the same time, when I was playing and saw her, I go...but actually playing is more fun now because I just see her and after the round, I played fine, great; I didn't play well, doesn't matter. It's a different perspective.

Sophia, how much do you respect the ability to come back and play at this level after having a baby?

SP: I was home over the summer. I had just given birth in June and I was watching Wimbledon, watching Elina Svitolina come back and she was eight months postpartum and made it to the semi-finals. I was sitting on the couch going, there is no way at eight months I'm going to be able to do this. Like I am just so out of shape. At the time, it feels to you like forever. Feels like you're doing a core exercise that's so basic and it's exhausting. That's where you have to start off. Your core. I had a lot of ab separation, so you're trying to get your abs back working, and functioning.

You hit a golf ball and you're like, man, I need my core a lot. I didn't even realise that before. Like it comes naturally and you take it for granted. You go, yeah, I was in shape. Fine. But now it's like a whole different thing. I do all exercise just to get my body in shape and then for sure golf.

The respect I have not just for the golfers out here, but for all the female athletes that get back into track, tennis, swimming, all these sports, it's wild. I totally underestimated it. Now I just am like all, go moms everywhere, because we've been through it now.

Caroline Masson - Solheim Cup 2019 - image credit: Matthew Lewis/LET

For both of you, what was the reasoning behind the timing? It is a challenge when you're a young female athlete when you have to factor in becoming a Mom.

CM: With Covid, Jason and I had such a hard time getting married that everything seemed to be delayed a couple of years. We planned this for a long time. I think you're always waiting for the perfect time, and the perfect time really never comes around. There is always things you want to do and achieve. I went into pregnancy basically thinking, okay, I would love to play golf again professionally. There is also a good chance it won't happen and I was content with that.

I felt like I have done good things in my career, you always think you could have done better. But I really didn't feel like I had that much to prove left. So either way I would've been okay. I think that was a very nice feeling, situation to be in, to really be able to focus on him and our family, and then obviously, if I get the chance to play again, I'll do it.

Like I said, we'll start this new chapter as a family. Just knowing there is no perfect time, and whenever it happens it's going to be amazing. There are many possibilities after having a baby in terms of playing or doing something different, too, which is super exciting.

SP: I agree. Just to piggyback on that, I think there is no perfect timing, and I think for me it was kind of planned, we didn't want to wait too long. I wanted to maybe be able to play still after having a baby. I didn't want to wait so long personally because I don't know, just having a family was always a dream of mine and I've always wanted that.

So to be able to do both now is obviously a blessing. It's tough. It's really tough, but it's enjoyable. I think some just decide to do it after their career; some decide to do it during. Sometimes it just the timing. It happens. You can't fully plan these things.

Just as a female athlete that's always hard. It's so under-rated and not talked about a lot. If you want both things, then how can you do it? Can you play and can you do your sport while having a kid? All these things. So I don't know. For us it just worked out well. Happened to be basically almost the same timing as Caro. Happened to work out that way, so I can't tell you exactly if it was planned or not. Now I'm happy about it.

The FIR HILLS SERI PAK Championship is underway - view the full leaderboard here.