May 6, 2013
WILLIAMSBURG — When Cristie Kerr's eagle putt at the 15th hole Sunday burned the left edge, her dad cringed.
"She's giving me heart attacks," Michael Kerr said as he stood greenside.
Plenty more palpitations awaited during another harrowing final round of the LPGA Tour's Kingsmill Championship.
That tension, combined with the walking limitations of two artificial knees, sent Michael to the clubhouse bar to watch his daughter duel Suzann Pettersen in a two-hole, sudden-death playoff.
But when Cristie tapped in a par putt on the 18th hole to secure her third Kingsmill victory, Michael was soon there to greet her. Good thing, too.
"Where's my dad?" Kerr sobbed as she hugged Tour colleagues Morgan Pressel and Irene Cho on the green.
Michael traveled with Cristie in 1997 and '98, her first two years on the circuit — "not the most exciting time of her life," he joked — but the two don't see one another as much these days.
The world's 12th-ranked player, Cristie is busy with her career. A Vietnam veteran and retired teacher, Michael lives in Florida with his second wife.
Michael had never seen Cristie win a LPGA tournament, and their most recent encounter before this week was in November at the Tour event in Naples, Fla.
"Cristie wanted me here," Michael said. "She said, 'Dad, I haven't seen you in a while. I love the golf course and the people I stay with [Kingsmill residents Jim and Linda Whittaker]. You might be good luck.'"
So there he was throughout the week following Cristie in a motorized scooter, standing occasionally for a better view.
What a show he witnessed Sunday at a tournament that last year produced a nine-hole, two-day playoff between Jiyai Shin and Paula Creamer.
Chasing her 16th career victory, Kerr began the round with a two-shot lead over Pettersen, a former Kingsmill champion and the world's No. 5 player, and world No. 2 Stacy Lewis. But other formidable challenges emerged.
Inbee Park, a three-time winner this season and the freshly minted No. 1, birdied four of the first seven holes to draw within a shot. Ariya Jutanugarn, a 17-year-old from Thailand, used her extraterrestrial length off the tee to birdie holes 13-16, also moving to within a shot.
Now Michael Kerr is no stranger to nerves. You don't watch buddies die in the jungles of Southeast Asia or teach fifth and sixth graders without a jagged edge or three.
"Out of the 250 men in his company, I think 50 or 60 died the first year in Vietnam," Cristie said, "so I'm lucky to be here at all."
But these nerves were different for Michael. That was his little girl on the course.
"My daughter's been scrambling all day long," he said as we stood at 15. "She's made so many (tough) par putts."
Indeed, Kerr was golden from 10 feet and in, strutting confidently toward the cup after each, until the first playoff hole, when she missed a 6-footer for birdie after a brilliant 5-iron approach that she called her best shot of the afternoon.
So why the worst putt of the round at the absolute worst possible time?
"Well, I tried not to let it bother me or get in my head or put extra pressure on myself," Kerr said of never having won in front of her dad. "I thought about it a little bit more … before I hit that first putt … and I got a little emotional. Maybe that's why I pushed it and didn't make it. …
"Emotions are good, though. We need emotions to play good."
Pettersen nearly won on the final hole of regulation, just missing a 20-footer for birdie — oh, to have seen Michael's reaction in the bar. But she nuked her approach over the green on the second playoff hole and failed to get up-and-down, her lone bogey of the day.
That left Kerr to make a routine par and celebrate with her dad.
"I think we just kind of cried and we were just really happy," Cristie said. "It's not only my day today, but it's his day. … This is a dream come true for both of us."
Kerr lost the lead Sunday when she bogeyed the par-4 14th and playing partner Pettersen — they are cordial at best and not above gamesmanship — birdied. Trailing for first time all afternoon, Kerr birdied the par-4 16th to force the playoff.
"I wasn't going to lose," she said, "not today, not with my dad here."
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