Teen with heart defect to play LPGA event

MacKinzie Kline
Mic Smith/AP
MacKinzie Kline, 15, a rising junior golfer, was born with a congenital heart defect and will play in her first LPGA Tour event.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — MacKinzie Kline was never one to wait for her chance, no matter how many surgeons or specialists told her to slow down.

Kline's drive will be rewarded this week. The 15-year-old rising junior golfer who was born with a congenital heart defect will play in her first LPGA Tour event, the $2.6 million Ginn Tribute near Charleston.

"I'm always someone who tries to bend the rules a little bit," she said recently by phone.

Because of her medical condition, Kline can't walk long distances without becoming fatigued. The LPGA issued a landmark ruling allowing Kline to become the first player in the organization's history to ride a cart during her rounds.

Kline, the oldest child of Elizabeth and John Kline, was born with heterotaxy syndrome, meaning her heart has one ventricle instead of two. In addition, her liver was transverse and she did not have a spleen.

"She was born with a heart defect that 30 years ago, we didn't have good treatment for," said Dr. John Lamberti, her heart surgeon at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego.

Kline had two heart surgeries before she was 2 and doctors weren't sure about her life expectancy.

Her mother remembers when things began to turn. Her 4-year-old daughter had been through another checkup when a doctor said with a grin, "I'd never thought she'd do this well."

Now, Kline, of Encinitas, Calif., has her latest chance to beat the odds on the Arnold Palmer-designed RiverTowne Country Club Course at the Belvidere Resort.

Kline got the chance to play when she received an exemption from tournament host Annika Sorenstam, who is thrilled the teenager is taking part.

"What she has accomplished, not only in golf, but for the community is extraordinary," Sorenstam has said.

Kline has become a spokesman for The Children's Heart Foundation and hopes to raise $1 million for the organization.

She aspires to join the LPGA one day and compete with young stars she'll see this week like Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie and Morgan Pressel.

The LPGA will allow Kline to use a cart as well as an oxygen delivery system - it looks like a cooler, her mother says - when she needs it.

LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens determined that Kline's request would not give her an unfair competitive advantage.

It wasn't long that ago when Kline's father bought his 5-year-old daughter some golf clubs simply for the activity.

The youngster instantly took to the game. John Kline remembers her hitting balls in the back yard and they'd be called to dinner. Kline would plead for more practice time. "It was unreal," he said.

As her talent grew, so did the challenges of competitive golf. Walking full tournaments was difficult. "I try not to get tired, but I know I will," she says.

Last year, Kline felt "fuzzier" than she had in the past. Her parents said her sleep patterns changed. "You could tell something was wrong," her father said. "Bless her soul, she had a hole in her heart."

Doctors discovered and repaired the hole. In between, the USGA ruled that Kline could use a cart for the U.S. Women's Amateur. She did not get past medal play, but followed an opening 83 with a second-day 75.

Kline plans to soak up everything this week.

She says she'll treat it like any of her junior events, but her parents know better. "She's nervous," her mother says. "I tell her, 'Mac, you're not going to let anyone down. Have fun.'"

Kline and her parents keep things normal around the house. They don't dwell on her condition, and she enjoys the same things as many teenagers - movies, privacy and a sloppy room, her mother says.

"Disabled is not something we say in the house," her mom says.

But as hard as he tries, there are days when it's difficult for her dad to accept that his child has a heart condition.

"You never know when it's going to hit you in the stomach," he said.

Kline isn't sure about her future. One morning she's certain the LPGA is ahead, the next, "I think playing college golf would be fun."

"What's her future?" Lamberti said. "We don't know because she's rewriting the book."

Kline hopes sharing her story will prove to others they don't have to be defined by their defects.

"I hope it reaches a lot of people," she said. "Kids should know they can still do the things they want."

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