Out of the Fire
Burn victim Cathy Gerring braves an agonizing comeback
This is an article from the May 4, 1998 issue
Where was Cathy Gerring? The bottom line was ominous. The final
score listed at last week's Chick-fil-A Charity Championship
read GERRING...WD. After only three holes Gerring, whose
attempts to return from a horrific 1992 accident had so far
gotten her nowhere, had hurried off the course and sped away. "I
went to the doctor's and got a cortisone shot in my hand," she
explained a few hours later. "He said, 'This is going to hurt,'
and you know what? I almost laughed."
Six years ago last weekend, Gerring was in a buffet line at the
Sara Lee Classic when a caterer spilled alcohol on a live flame.
The 1990 Bounceback Player of the Year, who had shot from 90th
to fourth on the money list that season, was engulfed in flames.
"I put up my hands and they caught fire. I thought I was dying,"
says Gerring, 37, who remembers every instant of her ordeal from
the moment her husband, Jim, tackled her and extinguished the
blaze to her 12 days at Vanderbilt Medical Center, where she
screamed through twice-daily sessions in which seven layers of
burned skin were scraped from her face and hands.
"It's ironic. I was a touch player, a hands player, and now I
can hardly feel my hands," says the former Ohio State
All-America. For more than a year, unable to grip a club, she
wore elastic gloves over her skin grafts. In 1996, after three
full seasons on the sidelines, she rejoined the tour but made
only one cut in 10 events. This spring she redoubled her
efforts, constantly fiddling with her grip and swing, seeking
the touch she had lost, but the results were worse than ever: No
cuts made in six tries. Her earnings are $0. Her name does not
appear on the tour's weekly list of players.
"I'm at the bottom of the barrel," she said after shooting 82-86
at the City of Hope two weeks ago to miss another cut. Then came
the Chick-fil-A, where the pain in her hands was so intense that
she flinched each time she hit the ball. "A mental disaster,"
she called her three-hole outing. "Being scared of pain is a
horrible feeling. I'm like a football player who hears
footsteps--the guy who goes down before he's hit."
Down but not out, Gerring returned to her Cornelius, N.C., home
with what she calls good news: "I have acute tendinitis and a
small stress fracture. By changing my grip and hitting two or
three hundred balls a day, I put too much pressure on my right
hand, but with rest I might be able to play in three weeks."
Still, a touch player with little or no sensation in her hands
probably has a limited future, and Gerring gets constant
reminders of the odds stacked against her. On hot days, her
hands get puffy because most of their sweat glands were
destroyed. On cold days, her fingers ache. She also suffers from
paresthesia, a pain she compares to being stabbed by needles.
Her pride is undamaged. "What really hurts is that I got to the
top of my sport, and now I have to crawl and scratch to be the
same person I was," says Gerring. "Maybe I should quit, but I
want to make that choice myself, not let this horrible injury do
Her supporters include husband Jim, pro emeritus at Muirfield
Village in Dublin, Ohio; her brother, former Tour pro Bill
Kratzert; best friend Juli Inkster; and sons Zach and Jayme.
"Zach's nine. He's been to a few of my tournaments," she says.
"When someone asked for my autograph, he said, 'Mom, they must
have known you when you were good.'"
Gerring, who keeps playing partly to set an example for her
sons, hopes to tee it up unflinchingly on May 14 at the
McDonald's LPGA Championship, the tour's next major. She
believes in fighting fire with competitive fire. "I'd give
anything to get into contention even once," she says. "Just
once--then all this would be easier to live with. Maybe it'll
happen at the McDonald's."
Those who applaud her return may note that they can feel their
hands while doing it.
THE LINE ON JAKE TROUT
Like Dylan or Sting, Peter Jacobsen pens tunes about angst. The
difference, says New York Times music writer Jon Pareles, is
Jacobsen's "golfocentric" muse.
Jake Trout and the Flounders, featuring warbler Jacobsen with
Mark Lye on guitar and Payne Stewart on harmonica, have been a
hot ticket on Tour for 10 years. "Their new album, I Love to
Play, puts them on the pro music circuit," Pareles reports,
"with a producer, Tom Werman, who oversaw Motley Crue." Studio
pros back the Flounders, whose golf buddies Stephen Stills,
Alice Cooper and Darius (Hootie) Rucker sit in. "Stewart puffs
occasionally on his harmonica," says Pareles, "and Jacobsen
sings well enough to get applause at a karaoke bar. He summons
an Alice Cooper growl in I'm on 18, gets that Eagles whine in
Struggler's Blues, finds a smoky street cool in Low Riser."
"Making a record was like playing a pro-am, only we were the
amateurs," says Jacobsen, who'll test his pipes onstage at this
week's Houston Open.
THE SHAG BAG
Sinking Feeling: Nancy Lopez, wearing the jersey of Atlanta
catcher Javy Lopez, threw out the first ball before an April 22
Braves-Diamondbacks game. But Hall of Famer N. Lopez, who had
warmed up at home with husband Ray Knight, didn't have her good
stuff last week. The defending champ missed the cut at the
Chick-fil-A, which Liselotte Neumann won, and bounced her
ceremonial pitch. "Tom Glavine told me to hold it across the
seams," she said. "I guess I threw a sinker."
Old Dog, New Geriatrics: When Kyle Kenny became Jim Colbert's
personal trainer in 1994, "I introduced him to weights and
cardiovascular work," says Kenny (below, passing a medicine ball
to Colbert). "At first, other players laughed at us. Then we won
the money title, and the laughing stopped." Kenny credits
weightlifting, running, and flexibility exercises ("particularly
for the back and shoulders, which support the backswing") for
his client's recent triumphs and says Colbert's fitness helped
him weather a 1997 bout with prostate cancer. At last week's Las
Vegas Senior Classic, Colbert tied for seventh, nine strokes
behind winner Hale Irwin. "Jim is living proof that aging
golfers are not doomed to get flabby and fall apart," Kenny says.
Kid Stuff: "A course within a course," designer Jack Ridge calls
his new kiddie 18, which is being built into Bob O Link Golf
Course in Lawrenceburg, Ky. Slated to open on Father's Day, the
course features far-forward tee boxes as well as greens with one
hole for grown-ups and another, complete with mini-flagstick,
for youngsters. All that's missing is a girl in a golf cart
selling bubblegum cigars.
Killer Kid Stuff: Who has the best nickname on the European
tour? It has to be Stephen Allan, the Babyfaced Assassin.
The Dane in Spain: With a torrid final-round 66, Denmark's
Thomas Bjorn won last week's Spanish Open. Bjorn, the only Ryder
Cupper snubbed by the Masters committee, watched the Masters on
TV. "Everything was going down the drain," says the formerly
melancholy Dane, who also endured a bitter breakup with his
girlfriend. He now has two wins this year and a new girlfriend,
a Swedish lawyer.
Mixed Blessing: The National Golf Foundation reports that 26.5
million Americans played golf in 1997, a 7% increase over '96,
while rounds played jumped 15% to 547 million. Reacting with
alarm, U.S. News & World Report offered tips for beginners,
including, "If a group of faster players is bumping against you,
invite them to play through." Should faster players begin
slam-dancing or hipchecking, call a marshal.
Meet the New Slu, Even Smaller Than the One You Knew
Linda Sluman, the wife of pint-sized 1988 PGA champion Jeff,
gave birth to a six-pound baby daughter, Kathryn Doreen, on
April 22. Sluman is a rookie dad, but don't worry: The noted
specialist in course management planned every detail along with
his wife before they reached the maternity ward. After finishing
34th at the MCI Classic in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Jeff flew
home to Chicago, where doctors induced labor for Linda, who was
perhaps more clinical than most first-time mothers because she
is a physician. Jeff said he would return for next week's
BellSouth Classic, although one of his friends, Davis Love III,
wasn't holding his breath. "They had everything organized, but
now they're in for a rude awakening," says Love, the father of
two. "You want to say, 'Look, it won't be what you think.
There's no instruction book.' But I'm sure they'll figure that
out for themselves."
HOW MR. STUPID GOT HIS REVENGE
He was a laughingstock. On April 14, 1968, Roberto De Vicenzo of
Argentina tied Bob Goalby for first at the Masters, then signed
an incorrect scorecard. After some deliberation, tournament
officials handed Goalby the green jacket and De Vicenzo,
relegated to second, uttered his immortal summation: "What a
stupid I am." He was no quitter, though. Less than a month
later, at the Houston Championships International, the 1967
British Open champ bounced back to win by a stroke over Lee
Trevino and collect $20,000. Later he won the U.S. Senior Open,
and in 1979 De Vicenzo, winner of more than 230 tournaments
worldwide since he turned pro in 1938, gained a distinction few
self-described stupids achieve: He was inducted into the PGA
Hall of Fame.
What do these players have in common?
Each overcame a seven-shot deficit in the final round to win the
Houston Open (Stewart did it in 1995, Allem in '91 and Sullivan