Keeping Score

Kerr’s theatrics steal show on TV

So far, so fast.

This week isn’t so much a reinvention but a reincarnation.

LPGA veteran Cristie Kerr, often the focal point of the U.S. team’s lamentable performances over the years in the Solheim Cup matches, in the span of 25 months has turned from scapegoat to G.O.A.T.

After breaking the record for most points scored by an American player in the morning session on Saturday, she played 16 holes in a blistering 7 under in the afternoon four-ball session to lead the Yanks to a commanding 10½-5½ lead heading into today’s singles (scores: http://bit.ly/1zkYSEX).

Few expected such a turnaround from a player who entered the ’15 matches with a career record of 12-14-4. Inexplicably, Kerr has morphed from being the poster girl for U.S. struggles into the hottest thing wrapped in red, white and blue not named Lynda Carter or Gal Gadot.

It got to the point where NBC/Golf Channel barely could keep pace with the 39-year-old’s mind-bending play, including when she holed a sand shot on the 15th for an eagle that could be heard in the background as the network broadcast shots in another match. By the time they switched to the taped shot, everybody knew what was coming.

Kerr stood in the sand, drained a 30-yard shot, theatrically tossed her putter into the air like Joey Bautista or Yasiel Puig flip a baseball bat after a home run, and bolted onto the green to a deafening, sustained roar.

“It’s been unbelievable,” her partner all week, Lexi Thompson, told NBC/Golf Channel. “She just walks everything in, makes bunker shots. I feel like I played pretty good today, and she played outstanding. She’s an animal out there.”

The two, who were paired in every match in 2015, too, are 5-0-2 as a team, helping to rehabilitate Kerr’s previous reputation as leader of a motley dogsled headed to oblivion. The week before the 2015 matches, Golf Digest’s well-regarded Jaime Diaz – who never trolled anybody in his life – gave the underachieving Yanks both barrels. The team was too soft.

“There’s an increasing drift toward style over substance,” Diaz wrote. “Instagram accounts, good looks and general buzz seem as important as performance, if not more so... The U.S. pattern of becoming a star without commensurate results breeds entitlement and competitive softness.”

While no names were mentioned, it was clear that Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie and Morgan Pressel were unindicted focal points of the bombast, while Kerr might well have topped the list.

Now she can do no wrong?

Kerr has made so many putts this weekend, boldly walking several of them into the hole long before they reached the cup, that they began to blur. For starters, she made a clutch putt on the 18th hole on Friday to secure a half-point, then combined with Thompson for seven birdies in 15 holes in a 5-and-3 rout Saturday morning.

The Queen of the Green in the minds of many, Kerr did plenty to cement her reputation as one of the best putters in the game, male or female, as everybody gushed, perhaps as much in shock as in awe.

After Kerr birdied the first hole of the afternoon session Saturday, NBC’s Terry Gannon sensed that more was coming: “That’s the last thing you wanted to see, Kerr making a putt for birdie on the opener. When she gets momentum on the greens, she is maybe the best.”

Kerr played her 17 holes in the afternoon four-ball match in 8 under, with a bogey, leading the U.S. charge. Incredibly, Kerr, a longtime friend and supporter of President Donald Trump, emerged to Make America Great Again.

She set a record for most Solheim points secured by an American, with 19, in her morning victory, then added another in the afternoon. Greatest Of All Time? After years of forgettable performances, she’s born-again hard.

Never a player who has been warmly embraced by rivals, Kerr even has been schooling her teammates, helping them to a lopsided lead. The title is all but assured, in fact: Never has a team come back from a deficit greater than 10-6 in singles play in the Ryder or Solheim competitions. 

“I do like that Cristie is helping Lexi read these putts a little more today,” NBC/Golf Channel analyst Karen Stupples said. “I think she trusts Cristie implicitly with these. There isn’t anybody better in the game at reading putts than Cristie Kerr.”

Or making them. Kerr walked in three putts in her morning round, which probably didn’t endear her to the Europeans. Though, with two decades on the LPGA, there always has been an air of entitlement and arrogance imbued in the Miami native, with just the tiniest trace of vulnerability, although the latter doesn’t surface much. At this point, Kerr probably doesn’t care what anybody thinks, if she ever truly did.  

Brash and overbearing at times, Kerr seemingly was born for the hand-to-hand combat of the Solheim Cup format. It’s a wonder why a player with 19 LPGA victories, including two major championships, took this long to figure it out. Said NBC/Golf Channel’s Grant Boone: “[She’s] maybe the best putter of her generation.”

Perhaps the most characteristic Kerr moment of the week came when she drained a clutch putt on Friday morning to secure a half point on the 18th green. She turned to Thompson and screamed, “[Expletive], yeah!” as loud as she could. Hint: The first word rhymes with pluck.

The roar of the fans drowned her out, but anybody with the slightest ability to read lips, and a DVR, could relive the revealing moment over and over again. The duo had rallied to win three of the last four holes to salvage a half-point.

Kerr, who turns 40 in October, has become a wonder woman at the Solheim. 

“I can’t see this being her last Solheim Cup,” Stupples said. “There will be more in her future.”

Steve Elling has covered golf for the Orlando Sentinel, CBSSports.com and numerous other global print and online outlets. Email: ellingink@gmail.com; Twitter: @EllingYelling


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