HOUSTON – Cristie Kerr expected the pain. She was determined to play Thursday in the U.S. Women's Open just six days after dislocating three ribs when her golf cart slammed into a pole in darkness.
The surprise was when she broke down in tears after an even-par 71.
Kerr took bogey on her opening hole at Cypress Creek when she anticipated pain in her chest, flinched on a sand wedge and chunked it. She pressed on with two birdies, two bogeys and plenty of chances.
The chest pain came from the accident. She can't remember if it hit the steering wheel early Friday morning last week at the Volunteers of America Classic outside Dallas. She said she and her caddie were thrown from the cart. She recalls the impact, and landing on her chest.
And that's when Kerr, the 43-year-old former U.S. Women's Open champion and 20-time winner known for her grit and bluntness, was overcome with emotion.
“I'm sorry,” she said, using the crook of her elbow to wipe away tears. “Maybe I shouldn't talk about it. I remember landing on my chest and it was awful.”
And then she straightened.
“But I'm here. And I played. And I was tough today,” she said. “And I feel like I'm going to keep getting better every day. God darn it, I'm going to do this.”
Kerr only recently got into the U.S. Women's Open for the 25th time, the most of any player at Champions Golf Club. It's her favorite tournament. And she wasn't sure until the last minute she could even play.
Kerr offered more details about the accident, how dark it was at Old American Golf Club with no lights when she and caddie Matt Gelczis drove off in a cart.
“There was a cart that was rounding the corner from the range and I could see that, because that cart had headlights and our cart did not," she said. “I was using the flashlight to lead the way. We were going three-quarters of the speed. We were both making sure we were on the path, and had to move over just a touch to miss the other cart coming our direction. We just hit this thing smack on.”
She had a hard time getting out of bed for a few days because of the sharp pain in her left chest and back. Gelczis is home in Philadelphia recovering from injuries.
“If you would've told me on Monday that I would be playing today, I would have said you were crazy,” Kerr said. “I've been working my butt off. I'm getting up in the morning and icing for two hours, and in the evening, too. I've done everything I can do to play.”
She walked the Jackrabbit course Tuesday to chip and putt, and when her caddie suggested she try a 60-yard shot, she bladed it over the green. By late afternoon, she could hit a three-quarter 7-iron. She played nine holes Wednesday, not wanting to because she feared more pain.
“On a scale of one to 10, it's a six,” she said of her pain level Thursday. “Monday was a 10. A six I can deal with as long as I can keep my mobility. So I was not surprised to play today. I started out a little cautious with ball-striking and then I got a little more confidence and re-upped on my pain medication in the middle of the round and was able to start hitting it a lot better in the second nine.”
The disappointment was the putter, typically her best club in the bag. But she played, and for that she was happy. Kerr made her U.S. Women's Open debut as a teenager at the Broadmoor in 1995, the year a young Swede named Annika Sorenstam won the first of her 72 titles on the LPGA Tour.
Kerr wasn't about to miss this one.
“It's our national championship. I feel like we’re so lucky to play it with COVID,” she said. “I mean, I’ve been up at 4 in the morning icing. If there is any way possible, I’m not going to miss this tournament.”
She finished the day four shots behind Amy Olson and cut short the interview for more therapy.
“See what happens,” she said.