All Grown Up Teen phenom Cristie Kerr has finally blossomed into an LPGA force

October 30, 2000

Linda Kerr has six scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings,
magazine articles, pictures and other mementos from her
23-year-old daughter Cristie's years as an amateur golfer. There
are stories about how, as a member of the boys' team at Sunset
High in Miami, Cristie beat Raymond Floyd's son Robert to help
Sunset win the 1994 district championship. Several pieces are
devoted to Cristie's eight victories in American Junior Golf
Association events in 1995, the year she was named that tour's
player of the year. There are also articles on Cristie's
decision, on June 23, 1996--her father's birthday--to forgo college
and turn pro, including the one in which she predicted stardom
for herself on the LPGA tour. "My goal is to shoot a 59 or a 60,
and then do it again on the hardest course possible," she told
the St. Petersburg Times.

Four years later Linda has completed only one scrapbook devoted
to Cristie's pro career. Although Kerr made it through Q school
on her initial try, she quickly went from extraordinary to
ordinary. Forget about any 59s. It took Kerr nearly her entire
rookie year on the LPGA tour to break 70 for the first time. She
missed more cuts (14) than she made (13), her best finish was a
15th, and she wound up a dismal 112th on the money list. "I
thought I was going to do what Karrie [Webb] is doing now," Kerr
says. "I was in shock. I was intimidated. For the first time, I
questioned myself."

Kerr's parents were also at a loss. "It was the hardest time of
her life, and as a parent you feel helpless," says Linda. "I'd
call up friends and tell them, 'For god's sake, pick up the phone
and call her.' I didn't want to call her. I didn't want to ask
her about her golf. [Her dad] was bringing it up all the time."

Michael Kerr wanted to be a supportive father, but he knew that
the girl the Florida press had dubbed the Tiger Woods of women's
golf lacked the maturity necessary for success. Nevertheless, he
told her again and again not to worry, that he knew she could do
it. "Maybe that was putting too much pressure on her," he says.
"You try to say only positive things, but it doesn't always
work."

Michael wanted to have the same type of relationship with
Cristie, Linda's and his only child, that Earl Woods has with
Tiger. Years ago, at a tournament in Coral Gables, Fla., Michael
had heard Earl lecture Tiger after a match. "Earl would ask him
who was responsible for a particular shot," Kerr says. "He was
very analytical and positive. He was teaching Tiger why he didn't
perform the way he was capable of performing. Tiger would listen
and nod. He was very respectful."

The dynamic between Michael, who left his job as an elementary
school teacher to travel with his teenage daughter during her
first year on the LPGA tour, and Cristie was more complex. "My
dad wanted to shelter me from all the hype and from everybody,"
Cristie says. "I was 18. Like any normal 18-year-old, a part of
me went through a rebellion stage."

Kerr didn't have friends on tour. It was just she and her dad,
and they did everything together. He caddied for her and they had
meals together. They also had their share of arguments. She
didn't always want to have dinner at 6 p.m.

Michael says he wanted to shield Cristie from the jealously of
the veteran players and the cynicism of the press. "It bothered
me that Cristie got a bum rap from the media," he says. "They
said she was cocky. They thought she was a smart-ass. She wasn't.
She was quiet. I didn't want her bothered by the negative stuff."

A few months into the '97 season Cristie and her dad agreed that
she would be better off hiring local caddies, and in September
she shot a 64 in the second round of the Fieldcrest Cannon
Classic, her low round of the season. "At that age it's very
difficult for fathers and daughters to get along," Michael says.
"It's like teaching a kid how to drive a car. There comes a point
where you have to step back. I was reluctant, but I wanted the
best for her."

The time and money Michael had spent on Cristie, though, had an
adverse effect on his marriage. In April 1998 he and Linda
separated. A year later they divorced. In August '98, Michael was
back in a classroom in Miami and Cristie was on her own. "I was
my own boss," she says. "I could work out or eat whenever I
wanted." She was also showing signs of steady improvement,
dropping her scoring average more than half a stroke and
improving to 74th on the money list.

Trouble was, Kerr had been lapped by her peers. Se Ri Pak, then
only 20, won four times in '98, her rookie season. Since then,
four other players under 23--Dorothy Delasin, Mi Hyun Kim, Kelli
Kuehne and Grace Park--have won in their first two seasons on
tour while Kerr, although she stands 13th on this year's money
list, still awaits her first victory. "I learned quickly not to
compare myself with anyone else," she says. "Everyone had
expectations, and so did I. I was impatient and putting too much
pressure on myself."

In retrospect, Linda and Michael say they should have anticipated
their daughter's slow progress. Cristie wasn't much of a player
when, at 10, she started on the junior circuit, but she improved
each year. By the time she was 16, no one could touch her. Her
LPGA career seems to be taking a similar path. This year Kerr has
finished in the top 10 in seven of her last 13 starts, including
ties for second in the Firstar LPGA Classic and in the U.S.
Women's Open. Her goal for the year had been to make the Solheim
Cup team, but she three-putted the final green of the last
qualifying tournament to miss an automatic berth by a shot, and
then was passed over by captain Pat Bradley, who used her
wild-card picks on veterans Brandie Burton and Beth Daniel.
Burton and Daniel went a combined 1-4-2 at Loch Lomond, where the
U.S. was upset by the Europeans. "I felt I would've pumped up the
team from the get-go," says Kerr. "I have a flair for that. It
would have been more fair if Pat had picked one rookie and one
veteran." Now Kerr says her goal is to win a tournament before
the end of the year.

Kerr's as pleased with her personal life as she is with her golf.
In March 1999 she was introduced--sort of--to Evan Whitenight, and
they have been inseparable ever since. As with many other
Generation Y romances, Kerr and Whitenight connected wirelessly.
They met for dinner, but not with each other. Kuehne, who's
married to Minnesota Vikings tackle Jay Humphrey, was eager to
set up her friend Kerr with Whitenight, a grad student at St.
Edward's in Austin, who is Humphrey's good buddy. So while Kerr
and Kuehne were having dinner at a tournament in Phoenix,
Humphrey and Whitenight were dining together in Austin. Through
the power of cell phones Kuehne and Humphrey made a couple out of
their single friends. "The first time I talked to him, I had
bronchitis," Kerr says. "I sounded like a man."

"I was drawn to her voice," says Whitenight. Every night for
three weeks Kerr and Whitenight had marathon phone conversations.
He sent her his graduation picture, but she refused to send him a
photo. Whitenight looked up her bio on the LPGA website. ("She's
gorgeous," he says. "She has the best eyes I've ever seen.") In
April, Whitenight had a dozen red roses delivered to Kerr's
locker at the Longs Drugs Challenge near Sacramento. It was the
first time anyone had sent her flowers.

A few days later Whitenight flew to Miami to finally meet Kerr.
That morning she had her hair and nails done, but when she went
to greet Whitenight, she suffered a panic attack. Kerr had gone
on only a few dates and had never had a serious boyfriend. Away
from golf she was unsure of herself. She had been chunky her
entire life and by the time she was 12 was already a size 14.
Whitenight didn't care. Almost instantly Kerr found a haven in
Whitenight, a best friend she could turn to whether happy or sad,
and last February she moved in with him in Austin.

During off weeks in Miami, Kerr would party all night in South
Beach and then sleep until three in the afternoon. In Austin she
starts her day no later than 10 a.m. and has lost 40 pounds. Kerr
is even getting along with her dad. Only one thing is left, and
according to the time line of the scrapbooks, she's due to win
any week now.

"I pray to God it's going to happen," Kerr says. "It's meant to
happen for me, and it's going to be so worth it."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DARREN CARROLL COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND Goal to go Kerr, who just missed making the U.S. Solheim Cup team, has shifted her focus to winning her first LPGA tournament.

"They said she was a cocky kid," says Kerr's father. "They
thought she was a smart-ass. She wasn't. She was quiet."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)