Little Warrior


LPGA ChampionshipPITTSFORD, N.Y. – Cristie Kerr has evolved in the long, hard climb to the top of the mountain.

Charlie De Lucca could see the strongest evidence of that yet a thousand miles away as he watched Kerr win the LPGA Championship Sunday on television from his home in Miami.

DeLucca, known as the “Godfather of South Florida Golf,” watched Kerr annihilate the competition when she was growing up in Miami. As executive director of the Dade Amateur Golf Association, he marveled at the cold, ruthless little competitor who never seemed satisfied or content as she rose to No. 1 in the national junior rankings.

That’s what DeLucca was thinking about as he watched Kerr rout the world’s best women pretty much the same way she did South Florida’s best all those years ago.

Cristie Kerr
Cristie Kerr had six birdies and no bogeys in the final round. (Getty Images)
That’s what he was thinking about with all those fans at Locust Hill chanting “USA” and Kerr beaming over the knowledge that she’ll become the first American to ascend to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings when they’re released on Monday.

“I sent Cristie a text Saturday night,” DeLucca said. “I told her I’ve never seen her look like she was enjoying the game more. She just looks different. You can still see when she gets mad about shots, but she’s never looked more in control of herself. She just looks like she’s having fun.”

Kerr literally let her hair down walking onto the 18th green.

She took off her cap, undid her pony tail, and shook her long, blond hair to the delight of the raucous crowd flocked around the final hole.

Still, with Kerr’s final shot, DeLucca could see something internal hasn’t changed at all.

Back when Kerr was growing up in Miami, DeLucca remembers a junior introducing herself to Kerr on the first tee before a match.

“Hi, I’m Susie Smith,” the junior said

The name could have been Jones or Johnson or Floyd.

“Hi,” Kerr shot back. “I’m the girl who’s going to kick your butt today.”

Kerr used a word other than butt.

DeLucca said Kerr went 1-up before a match began after more than one exchange like that.

“She told Robert Floyd she was going to kick his butt when they played in high school,” DeLucca said.

That would be Hall of Famer Raymond Floyd Jr’s son. She beat him, too. Kerr played for the boys’ team at Sunset High, Floyd for Country Day.

“Cristie was just tough,” DeLucca said. “She wasn’t afraid of anybody. She had some hard times, and she could upset some people, but she was just so dedicated and driven.”

Kerr, 32, a 14-time LPGA winner with two major championships to her credit, has evolved. She doesn’t tell playing partners she’s going to kick their butts anymore. She might be thinking it, though.

“Inside the ropes, she’s still a killer out there,” said Jason Gilroyed, her caddie. “She just kept the pedal down all day. She never let up.”

It wasn’t because she was going for a record, Gilroyed said. He didn’t have a sense that she was even aware of how far she was pulling away from the field after opening the final round with that eight-shot lead.

“It was a dream performance,” Kerr said. “I didn’t limit myself. I just wanted to see how far I could take it. It took it pretty far.”

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The only number Kerr seemed to have in mind was winning her bet with Gilroyed.

The bet was Gilroyed would have to pay for groceries for the week when they play the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont if she shot at least 2-under on Sunday. If she shot 4-under or better, Gilroyed would also have to pay for the wine. Gilroyed said he doesn’t know how many folks he’ll be feeding, but the house they’re renting in suburban Pittsburgh has six bedrooms.

“I’ll be out a couple thousand dollars,” Gilroyed said.

The caddie couldn’t be happier about it. His percentage of the $337,500 first-place check will help. Kerr’s come a long way in her climb to No. 1. She turned pro at 18 with her parents splitting up and on their way to divorce as she struggled to establish herself.

'There were times when she could look lost,' DeLucca said.

Kerr looks back at all of it now and sees how it shaped where she is today.

“I’ve been this competitive since I was 10 years old,” Kerr said. “My father was very competitive as a baseball player. My mother was a competitive swimmer. Both of my parents are fighters. They told me never to give up. I gave up once when I was 9 or 10, and I didn’t hear the end of it. That’s the last time I’ve ever given up on a golf course.”

Kerr was a chubby, prickly teen who didn’t make friends easily when she first hit the tour, but she’s evolved. There’s evidence of that in the foundation she established to help fight breast cancer after her mother was diagnosed with the disease. There’s her well documented physical transformation that’s landed her on the cover of women’s magazines, and there’s the social transformation. She counts Natalie Gulbis and Morgan Pressel as close friends. She credits her husband, Erik Stevens, for helping her evolve since they married in ‘06.

“I’ve won one tournament without my husband,” Kerr said. “I’ve won all the others with him. He’s been one of the biggest influences on me becoming a better person, changing and evolving and giving back.”

Unfortunately, for Kerr’s fellow competitors, the evolution hasn’t softened the little warrior within who wants to kick their butts.