Girl Meets Game: Cristie Kerr
Cristie Kerr will never forget the mighty connection that launched her lifelong love affair with golf.
"I hit the ball past that 100-yard mark for the first time, and I was so excited," she said of a trip to a driving range when she was 8 years old. "That was it."
A love of the game blossomed right then and there.
Kerr picked up golf clubs for the first time when she was 7 years old, tagging along with her parents at Kendale Lakes Golf Course in a suburb of her hometown of Miami.
"I was very active and always wanted to tag along," she said. "I loved it from the first time I picked up a club."
She began soaking up the game on and off the course, studying the greats on television, players such as Nancy Lopez and Juli Inkster.
"People ask me how I always knew what I was meant to do," said 35-year-old Kerr, the winner of 16 LPGA tournaments, including the 2010 LPGA Championship. "I just kind of knew from the time I was 10 years old that I wanted to play golf professionally."
The early memories are still vivid for Kerr, from that initial 100-yard drive to her first American Junior Golf Association win in South Carolina, complete with 14-foot alligators lingering on the course. Even the mundane moments -- such as her many hours spent in the range picker to gathering balls so she could practice -- are fresh in her memory.
Indeed, the wonder involved with discovering her life's calling at such an early age isn't lost on her.
"I realize how special it all is; it gives me chills thinking about it, it's so rare," she said. "I think that if you expose kids to things they love, they will often gravitate."
She also emphasizes the importance of the people who supported her from a very early age. People such as Tommy Gibson, who gave her some of her first lessons at Kendale Lakes; Charlie DeLucca, who offered her a chance to play in the early years; and family who helped support her financially so she could travel to tournaments. There was also longtime mentor Jim McLean and coach Bryan Lebedevitch, who helped launch her into the big time.
"If those people hadn't given me the opportunity to flourish, I wouldn't be where I am today," she said.
Along with the army of supporters who have encouraged her throughout her sporting journey, she says it is the competition and a true devotion to the game that keeps her hitting the links. She still remembers the days when 100-yard drives and shooting 93 were big deals. Seeing how far she has come is inspiration enough.
"Winning and competing at the top level of my sport are the real motivators," she said. "But there's no question you need to be in love with it to spend this much time playing."