Kerr and the best women players on the universe meet this week in South Hadley, Mass., for the U.S. Womens Open. In order for Kerr to win, she will have to overcome some awesome talent. Annika Sorenstam is No. 1, of course. Shes a native of Sweden. Number 2 is up for debate, but its probably Grace Park or Se Ri Pak, both Korean natives. Mexicos Lorena Ochoa is making a serious bid for somewhere near the top. Karrie Webb has slipped a little, but the Australian is still up there. Womens golf has truly gone worldwide.
Kerr, though, is rising fast. She has already won twice this year and finished second to Sorenstam in another. She appears ready to supplant 43-year-old Juli Inkster at the top of the U.S. roster.
It's definitely one of my goals, to be the top American player, said Kerr, now 26 years old. It's quite an honor. You have to work hard for it, but it's definitely one of my goals.
And should she achieve that honor? Then what?
I dont want to get ahead of myself, of course, she said. But why not think of player of the year? Why not dare to dream? Why not put those goals ahead of you?'
Kerr thinks highly of all the international players on the LPGA. But she also recognizes what must seem obvious ' its time for an American to do something. Its almost imperative for there to be at least one U.S. star, someone who is always a threat to win.
I think the international component on our tour has been very positive for us. If you want to be a winner on tour and you want to win consistently, you've got to want to win against the best players. You've got to want to win against Annika Sorenstam, said Kerr.
The American players, I think we do have to start playing better. I think it's going to only help our tour.
Sorenstam will be the favorite to win this week, of course. She has four wins already this year, including one major ' the McDonalds LPGA Championship. She and Kerr will play together the first two rounds Thursday and Friday. Kerr, as always, will learn something watching Sorenstam navigate around the course.
I think her drive, her will to win - she probably hates to lose more than anybody out here, Kerr said in describing the No. 1 player.
I'm also a person that hates to lose. But in golf, typically, there's only one winner at the end of every week, and I think she (Sorenstam) defies those odds. So her will, her absolute just raw will to win and hatred of losing is one of those things that drives her to be the best - not only that she can be, but the best in the world. And she's proved that.
Kerr is playing in her eighth season now, having made the leap right from a Miami high school to the LPGA, bypassing college. It took a few years to mature, to become accustomed to having a life away from her parents. It took six years before she finally won for the first time. But regardless, she is proceeding right along according to her own schedule.
I think I'm exactly where I need to be right now, she said. I think everything happens for a reason. It's such a cliched saying, but I really believe that success comes when you're ready for it. It's been a build up, especially over the last couple of years, from the 2002 season when I won the Longs Drugs Challenge.
Since then, I've been in contention a lot. I really believe you have to learn how to win. If you were to ask Annika the difference between her 50th win and when she won her second tournament, she would have said it's all kind of a plan and putting things in the right place at the right time. So I feel like Im starting to be ready for this.
Kerr isnt necessarily advocating her route to the pros. It worked for her professionally, she says, but she would have loved to have gone to college to develop and mature socially. But she says she is glad she at least finished high school.
I think it's a hard world to grow up in out here, and I did it out of high school and it was very difficult for me, she said. I did not play well my first couple of years on tour because of that. Even if I had my father out with me, but to be able to handle the mental pressures and the pressures of competition, for me, I wasn't ready to come out before high school.
In spite of her successes, the year has not been without tragedy for Kerr. She learned that her mother has breast cancer just after the Womens Open last year. Mother Linda continues to battle the illness, and Kerr has responded with a Birdies for Breast Cancer program in which she contributes for each birdie made. She also has a website to encourage others to contribute.
I did not play well for probably a month and a half after learning that, said Cristie, and I spent some time at home with her. You know, even as early as you catch it, you just never know, and you never really think anything is going to happen until something actually happens.
Unfortunately it kind of slaps you in the face and makes you realize how valuable life is. I was devastated.
Kerr has grown up since she came to the professional ranks fresh out of English class. But she thinks she finally has learned not to be afraid of winning.
I struggled a little bit with that in the first time that I won, in California, she said. I didn't play well, definitely the next couple of weeks, because I didn't know how to handle everything that came along with winning. I think I definitely have a better sense of how to handle that and keep my priorities in check.
And she has learned so much, grown so much.
I don't think I had very high confidence when I first came out on tour, even though I was supposedly one of the best amateur or junior players in the country or in the world, said Kerr. I think that is part of why there's an age restriction.
Some girls may be able to do it better than others, but I had a hard time when I first came out on tour. It's a hard place to grow up.