With age comes wisdom -- and more LPGA Tour success -- for Cristie Kerr
The wealth has been spread around on the LPGA Tour during 2017 with eight players having won more than once coming into this week's year-ending CME Group Tour Championship. It's an all-star list of golfers, but one name stands out.
At age 40, Cristie Kerr is 10 years older than any of this season's multiple winners, and twice as old as one of them, 20-year-old Brooke Henderson. Women's professional golf is a young person's game these days. Kerr, though, is bucking the trend, arriving at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida, sixth on the 2017 LPGA money list and seventh in the Race to the CME Globe.
"I'm completely embracing my age," Kerr says. "I have no choice. I think having a 4-year-old kind of keeps you young."
Mason, the child of Kerr and husband Erik Stevens, will turn 4 in early December, and he is getting old enough to understand how good his mother is at her job, which was paused by significant knee surgery after the end of last season. A year ago as the defending CME champion, Kerr, taped, braced and medicated, gimped her way to a tie for 22nd.
"I had gotten an MRI after the Asia swing and knew I was going to have to have surgery, but I was defending and you've got to do that if you can," Kerr says. "It was a pretty brutal week, but I got through it."
An operation on the damaged cartilage was complicated by a ruptured cyst in the back of her knee that at first was feared to be a blood clot. "If that had been the case," Kerr says of the more serious scenario, "I was looking at not playing for quite a while. I got hungry again, motivated to get back. As it was, I was out of the game for eight or nine weeks, not able to touch a club. And it made me realize how much I love this game."
It sure hasn't been an unrequited affection since returning to action, with Kerr's victories at the Lotte Championship and Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia giving her 20 wins in a stellar LPGA career (tied for 26th with Laura Davies on the all-time list). And it is the second time in the past three years that Kerr has had multiple wins.
Kerr's 2017 success is part of a bounce-back on the part of American players, who only claimed two titles in 2016, the fewest in LPGA history. This year, U.S. golfers have won seven times.
We're building the foundation for where we want to go in the future. There are some kinks to be worked out, but we're definitely healthy. We're in a much better place than we were in 10 years ago.Cristie Kerr on the future of the LPGA Tour
"If one American wins on tour, it inspires other Americans to win," Kerr says. "Stacy Lewis won this year for the first time in a while and did good things with her winnings [to Hurricane Harvey relief]. Lexi [Thompson] won. I have won, and others. If Americans aren't winning, someone has to take the torch and inspire the others. That's kind of what happened."
Kerr has succeeded relying on an old strength: putting. She is ranked second in putts per green in regulation, the best she has been in that category since 2010.
"It's huge -- you have to get the ball in the hole," Kerr says. "Putting's always been my favorite part of the game. I've always loved practicing it and that clearly shows. If you look at the better putters, we're not overly technical. We know good technique, and fewer moving parts under pressure is a good thing. But that's not bigger than the ability to will the ball into the hole, if you will. You have to have that determination, that fire, that knowing that your line and speed are good and that you're going to make it. You need to get the ball in the hole whether you're 18 or 40."
Kerr turned professional after graduating from high school when she was 18 in 1996, a precursor to the many young female golfers, many from foreign countries, who have have done so more recently as women's golf has gotten younger and younger.
"I was definitely the exception to the rule. There were only a few of us who had come out of high school and gone pro," Kerr says. "But I did think the tour was going to become younger as long as the money got better and there was a reason for people to start younger. I thought it would get there."
She has seen the LPGA languish and flourish, rebounding from economic dips and administrative miscues to more stable footing.
"I think we're healthy, but we're not triathlon-ready stage yet," Kerr says of the LPGA. "We're building the foundation for where we want to go in the future. There are some kinks to be worked out, but we're definitely healthy. We're in a much better place than we were in 10 years ago. Hats off to [commissioner] Mike Whan for that. He's very personable, but he stands his ground in business when he needs to. He works with people to figure out things when he needs to. He's made people realize that the LPGA is a great partnership to be involved with."
Kerr, who was on her ninth U.S. Solheim Cup team this year, plans to stand her ground amid the youth movement. It would surprise no one, least of all herself, if come the weekend, she is standing out on the leaderboard showing a younger generation how it's done.