Cristie Kerr’s life took a wondrous, dizzying turn last month.
In a life-changing moment, she was sure she would never be the same person again.
When her first child, Mason Kerr Stevens, was placed into her arms in a Florida hospital, she felt the tectonic plates in her world shifting.
“It was like I didn’t even know myself before Mason was born,” Kerr told GolfChannel.com. “Everyone says having a child changes your life, but you wonder, how exactly? Until you have a child, you don’t know, you don’t really understand the kind of love you can have. It’s better than we imagined.”
Kerr, 36, stunned much of the golfing world announcing she and her husband, Erik Stevens, were the proud parents of Mason, born on Dec. 8 to a surrogate mother carrying their child. After four years of trying and failing to have a baby, they sought help, realizing their shared dream with In Vitro fertilization. Genetically, Mason is theirs, through gestational surrogacy.
“He’s our little miracle,” Cristie said.
He’s the miracle that Cristie and Erik wondered possible after Cristie was diagnosed with Endometrial deficiency, a medical condition where a thin uterine wall would make it difficult, if not impossible, to carry a child to term.
“It put us at high-risk pregnancy,” Kerr said.
There was heartache trying and failing, but it only made Mason’s arrival more joyous.
“I can’t imagine us without him,” Kerr said.
Kerr and Stevens guarded the private nature of the surrogacy, telling only close friends after they decided early last year to try that method. Cristie said she was walking down the first fairway after her opening tee shot at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii in April when Erik caught her eye. He was excited about something.
“I’m like`What?’” Kerr said. “And he says, `We’re pregnant!’ It was really, really cool. I went on to miss the cut and didn’t give a crap.”
At the Safeway Classic in Portland in September, Cristie’s closest LPGA friends threw her a baby shower.
“It wasn’t that we were trying to hide anything from media, it was just a very personal matter,” Kerr said.
Kerr, even her friends will tell you, is a complex personality, a curious mix of toughness and tenderness. When she’s stalking a trophy, one of her cold stares can make birds stop singing. Her devotion to the fight against breast cancer, though, speaks to that other dimension. She threw her heart into the cause after her mother, Linda, was diagnosed. Kerr is the force behind the Cristie Kerr Health Center in Jersey City, N.J., a medical facility that treats women fighting breast cancer regardless of their ability to pay. She has raised more than $3 million in the fight.
The golf world has watched the metamorphosis of Kerr before. We saw the brash, hard-edged and frumpy working-class girl from Miami improbably blossom into one of the tour’s glamor girls, shedding almost 60 pounds a decade ago. She re-invented herself then as a chic, cover-girl athlete that Women’s Fitness named one of the sexiest women in golf. She became a wine connoisseur and created her own Curvature label.
With Kerr preparing to begin the 2014 season at the Honda LPGA Thailand in three weeks, there’s curiosity over how this newest transformation is going to unfold.
How is motherhood going to change her?
“I’ve seen a different side of myself, and I’ve seen a different side of Cristie,” said Erik, who isn’t just Cristie’s husband but also her manager/agent. “I’ve seen amazing changes in her. She’s so attentive to Mason, so engaged, and I have to say, she’s very, very peaceful.”
Erik, though, says some things don’t change, but are only enhanced by motherhood, like Cristie’s attention to detail.
“I have to say, in a positive way, she’s anal about how everything gets done, incredibly detail oriented,” Erik said. “If there were an epic flood and 5,000 babies survived, I could diaper and feed every single one of them. We have clothes for Mason for the first year and a half already. They’re color-coded, sorted in drawers.”
Kerr is always eager to start a new season, but this year begins like no other. This time, it will be tough leaving home to go to Thailand for her 2014 debut. It will be tough leaving Mason and Erik behind in Scottsdale, Ariz.
While being a mother may be changing Kerr as a person, there’s curiosity how it’s going to change her as a player.
Kerr is a 16-time LPGA winner, a two-time major champion. She was the first American to rise to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.
What happens now that her priorities are changing? Can she still devote herself to what it takes to win tournaments and majors? Can she be a champion and a mom? Can she have it all?
Kerr is eager to find out, too.
So are fellow players.
“It’s really hard,” says Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, who won more than half her seven majors while raising two daughters. “Basically, you have two full-time jobs. I’m sure Cristie will have plenty of help.”
Inkster said there will be trial and error early on.
“She’s going to have to find her own balance.” Inkster said. “It took me awhile to find that balance of when to practice, when to hold back. There isn’t much 'me' time. That might be a little hard for Cristie. It’s not all about Cristie now, but she’ll figure it out. This is something she has always wanted. She’s a hell of a golfer, and she’s had a great career, and she’s going to continue that, but she’s going to have to figure out that balance.”
Erik is stepping in there, overhauling his business to devote himself to family. Last year, he hired an assistant to take on some of his professional workload so he can be more heavily involved in raising Mason.
“I’ll be a bit of Mr. Mom on occasion, which I’m looking forward to,” Erik said. “We got help with the business, instead of hiring people to take care of Mason, where we would never really see him. That’s not our style. We want to be very involved in Mason’s life.”
While Erik’s increasing domestic role will free up Cristie to play and practice, there’s still going to be emotional challenges. Erik can see how hard it is for Cristie to leave home just to practice the last few weeks.
“There are going to be times Cristie is going to have to make choices about where she wants to go, what she wants to do, based on how Mason is doing with things,” Erik said.
Cristie is feeling that with Mason already.
“You enjoy feeding him, you enjoy burping him, you enjoy hanging out with him,” Kerr said. “Seeing every little smile and movement is fascinating.”
Cristie hopes to bring Mason out on tour for the first time in March at the LPGA Founders Cup, which will be played practically in the backyard of their Scottsdale home. She isn’t sure how much Erik and Mason will travel yet, but they’re considering hiring help when they are on the road.
“Erik said he’s basically going to create an environment where I don’t have to worry about them at home,” Kerr said. “I just have to make sure I find the right balance.
“I think being a mother will make me better. There’s new inspiration to play. I’ve always played for my family, but now I’m really playing for family. I think the key is not putting so much pressure on myself that I can’t perform.”
The greatest pressure may not necessarily come over putts anymore.
It may come leaving her front door for all those international trips on the LPGA schedule.
“I’ll be inspired, but I think the bad weeks are going to be easier now,” Kerr said.