Cristie Kerr’s glare can make birds quit chirping and clouds stop rolling.
When she barks for a crisply struck iron shot to “sit down,” spectators obediently tumble onto their bottoms.
She probably could have held her own in a stare down with Ray Floyd.
They’re both Miami tough.
That’s where Kerr grew up and where Floyd made his home as a pro.
Nobody knows how ferocious Kerr could be as a competitor better than all those juniors in Miami she grew up beating in Dade Amateur Golf Association events, and later in Miami-Dade high school district matches. A lot of them were boys. She played for the Miami Sunset High boys’ team. Robert Floyd, one of Ray’s sons, was among those Kerr beat. In fact, she beat him twice in the same spring season.
Back when this reporter was the golf writer at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a youth official shared a story about just how fearsome Kerr could be when she reigned as the No. 1 junior girl in the country. He shared a story about the time he was standing on the first tee before the start of a local match. He remembers a girl walking toward Kerr, with her hand stuck out to introduce herself.
“Hi, I’m Jane Doe,” the girl said, with words approximating that. “I’m going to be playing you.”
Kerr shook her hand.
“Hi,” Kerr said. “I’m the girl who will be kicking your butt today.”
Except, she didn’t use the word butt.
Of course, Kerr has matured over the years, with those rough edges smoothing out, with a more sophisticated approach to competition well honed, with a more civil manner of kicking butt fine tuned. She’s a wife and the mother of two children. She’s a wine connoisseur, too. More than that, she owns her own wine labels, Curvature Wine and Kerr Cellars.
She’s 42 now, but be careful assuming she can’t muster the same forbidding glare when it’s required.
Kerr will make her first start in her 24th year as an LPGA pro this week in the backyard of her South Florida home, at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio. It’s about an hour from her childhood home. She’ll make this start with some of that feistiness of her youth returning.
“I’m fired up,” Kerr said. “I feel like people have written me off, and they shouldn’t do that.”
Kerr really felt the weight of that when Juli Inkster didn’t name her one of the two captain’s picks for the American Solheim Cup team last fall. Kerr respects Inkster, and she said she wants to be careful how this is depicted, but she was upset when she wasn’t chosen.
Yes, she agrees, she made it tough on Inkster, struggling to find form. Still, Kerr believes her experience, her record and her attitude should have meant more than it did. The wound was deepened when Europe’s Catriona Matthew made Suzann Pettersen a captain’s pick, even though Pettersen had played just twice in two years. It deepened again when Pettersen proved herself worthy by winning the matches with a dramatic walk-off putt.
“I harbor no hard feelings toward Juli,” Kerr said. “She did what she thought she had to do to win. Someday, I’ll probably be a Solheim Cup captain, and I’ll have to make a tough decision like that.
“But it was just hard seeing one captain believe in the experience of a player, and seeing that pay off, seeing Suzann come through in the end. It was hard seeing Suzann make that putt, believing I had something to offer our team.”
Kerr is a 20-time LPGA winner with two major championships among those victories. She proved something to herself winning the last of those titles two weeks after turning 40, and she was sure there were more wins to come.
But there was frustration when they didn’t. She missed the cut in five of her last six starts last season, with just one top-10 finish over the final six months. She placed in the top 10 only twice in all of 2018.
Sitting out the Solheim Cup wasn’t the only sideline seat she was forced to endure over the last year. She didn’t qualify for the CME Group Tour Championship at the end of last season, nor did she qualify for the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions last week, the start to this new season.
“I have a lot to prove to myself,” Kerr said.
Motivated by the pain that comes with being left out, she isn’t lacking fuel to do the extra work required. The TV work she did at the CME Group Tour Championship last year helped her to know she isn’t ready to retire. She really liked doing TV, and she can imagine herself making a career of that, but not just yet. Sitting in that announcer’s chair, she still burned to play.
So, back in Scottsdale, Ariz., she recommitted to working hard with her trainer. She got back to the gym, worked on her body, and back on the course, working with a new Callaway driver and a new two-ball putter. She spent last week there prepping with her new caddie, Cole Pensanti.
“I’m not done,” Kerr said. “I want to go out on my terms.
“I’m definitely recommitted. I’m hungry, probably more than I have been in the last four or five years.”
Kerr says her interest in her growing wine business, like the TV work, teased her, while ultimately refreshing her.
“The break late last year really did me good,” she said. “I’ve been out here a long time, and it got to where it was going to go one of two ways. It was either, 'I’m sick of playing, and I want to do the TV stuff,’ or, 'I’m going to reignite my passion to play.’”
Kerr says a fire is burning in her belly again. She’ll play this week in Boca Raton and then go to Australia to play the ISPS Handa Vic Open and the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
“I need some tournaments under my belt again,” Kerr said. “These next three events are about being ready to go when we get back to the United States.”
Kerr is five points away from qualifying for the LPGA Hall of Fame. She has 22 points. She can earn one point winning a regular LPGA title, two for a major, and she can earn one for a Rolex Player of the Year Award or Vare Trophy.
“I’m excited to see what I can do,” Kerr said. “I’m excited to work on myself, to work on my game.”
And to kick some butt again.