This time, Gerina Piller gets to play
Competing in the Solheim Cup is so different from anything else LPGA players typically do that it's hard for them to fully get a sense of it unless they experience it in person. Watching on television lets them know it's a charged atmosphere, but being there is rather stunning for most of them.
That's why when Gerina Piller began to turn a corner in her golf career, her mentor and friend Angela Stanford stepped in with the kind of gift a person never forgets.
"Two years ago, she looked at me -- she calls me 'Rookie' -- and said, 'Rookie, if you're going to play in one of these someday, you'd better come see what it's all about,'" Piller said of the 2011 Solheim Cup in which Stanford competed. "And she, out of her own pocket, flew me out to Ireland so I could see it. I couldn't get enough of it. And here I am two years later, getting to play in my first Solheim Cup and she's one of my teammates. I couldn't be more blessed and grateful."
Piller's eyes welled up, the emotions of a long but ultimately good day at the Women's British Open flooding through her. She was talking about finishing tied for 36th at St. Andrews on Aug. 4. She waited after her round to see if she would be chosen to the team with one of Meg Mallon's two captain's picks for the USA-Europe event, which will be contested Friday-Sunday at Colorado Golf Club.
When she went to learn her fate from Mallon, before it was announced publicly, Piller was preparing for the worst.
"I walked in, and you try to get a vibe about what's going on," she said. "It wasn't a good vibe I was catching, so I was expecting bad news. Then she complimented me on my golf game and was like, 'You're going to Colorado.' Just to be considered for the team has been a great pleasure. To actually be picked is a dream come true."
Piller and Michelle Wie were the captain's picks, and one thing both had going for them was their ability to hit big. Piller, in particular, is a "bomber," averaging 268.5 yards per drive, which ranks fourth in the LPGA.
"Gerina's length is a big factor on this golf course," Mallon said.
But personality weighed into the selections too, and in that, Piller and Wie got the nod for different reasons. Wie is used to being in the spotlight -- even when she's not playing well -- and Mallon believes the big stage of the Solheim Cup will bring out the best in Wie's frequently up-and-down game.
Piller, meanwhile, has the kind of get-along-with-everyone demeanor that should make her a great teammate.
"Golf is important, but there are other things more important," said Piller, who is ranked No. 55 in the world and has five top-10 finishes this season. "I feel like off the course I've learned to put things into perspective."
Piller, 28, took a more arduous route to get to where she is than some of her Solheim teammates, for whom LPGA success happened earlier in their lives.
A native of Roswell, N.M., Pillar -- whose last name was Mendoza before her 2011 marriage -- played collegiately at UTEP, where she got her degree in mathematics in 2007.
She played on the LPGA's Futures Tour from 2008 to 2010, during which time she also appeared on The Golf Channel's "Big Break." Her top-five finish on the Futures money list in 2010 got her full status on the LPGA circuit for 2011.
But the hardest work, in some ways, was only beginning.
"As a rookie, you get a 'big sister' on tour, and I picked Angela," Piller said. "Without her and Kristy McPherson, I don't think I would have survived my first season. They're there for the good times and also for the bad. Having someone in your corner when you're out here, it makes things easier."
Piller has another golfer on her side: her husband, Martin Piller. He has played mostly on the Web.com Tour, and they've had to balance the divergent travel schedules of two professional golfers. But Martin will be in Colorado to see his wife compete in the Solheim this week.
"No matter what, he's proud of me and supports me," Piller said. "And I am proud of him too."
Also proud is Stanford, who says of fellow ardent Texas Rangers fan Piller, "She's just one of those people I know I'm always going to be friends with, even after golf."
Stanford, 35, has never really liked playing in the Women's British Open and even considered not going this year. But she ended up tied for 17th, just her second top-20 finish at the event. So was she happy that she went?
"Yes, but mostly I'm glad I was here for this," Stanford said of the announcement of the U.S. team, on which Piller will be one of four Solheim rookies. "I would have been really upset if Gerina would have made it and I wouldn't have been here to see her reaction."