RIO DE JANEIRO – Earlier in the week Gerina Piller was moved to tears when asked to describe what it would mean to win an Olympic gold medal.
After shooting a third-round 68 Friday that she said felt more like a 64 because of the difficult, windy conditions, Piller said she knows she belongs among the best in the game, even though she hasn’t collected a victory as a professional.
The final round Saturday will be one of the most important rounds of Piller’s career as she’ll have to battle the emotions of the moment while attempting to capture her first win, one that would put a gold medal around her neck.
“I allow myself to think about it,” she said about winning gold. “Because I’m a firm believer that when you see yourself doing something, and you keep running that through your mind, then you’re more likely to do that.
“Just really see myself in contention, up at the top of the leaderboard, standing on that podium and just really giving myself belief and self-talk that I do belong there. I feel like I have a chance at this.”
Piller has eight top-10 finishes this year. Again, no victory. An eighth-place tie at the U.S. Open last month was just good enough to slide her into the top 15 in the world rankings, which was good enough to meet the criteria for entry into the Olympics.
On Friday, Piller took advantage of the front nine and shot 31 with four birdies. The last few holes were more of a struggle than previous days because they were suddenly playing into a 30 mph wind. Piller made birdie on the 16th hole when she hit her approach to 5 feet, but made bogey on the home hole because of a wayward drive and a poor fairway bunker shot that caught the lip.
“The good thing about today was I didn’t really panic at all when I was out of position and that was huge,” Piller said.
Piller is likely remembered most for helping the U.S. win the Solheim Cup in Germany last September. She drained a testy 8-footer to defeat Caroline Masson when a missed putt would’ve handed the Solheim Cup back to Europe. That experience gave Piller confidence heading into this season on the LPGA.
But none of that matters now. Piller is only two shots off the lead with 18 holes remaining in the Olympics. She desperately wants a victory for herself and her beloved red, white and blue, even though a top-three finish would be a momentous occasion.
“If something comes in my head and I use that as motivation and just a lot of confidence, I think that’s going to do me a lot of good,” Piller said.