News & Opinion

Piller plays with growing expectations

ORLANDO, Fla. –  One competitor in the third annual Diamond Resorts Invitational field stands out. You can tell that by listening to LPGA player Gerina Piller. And by looking.

Piller happens to be the lone pregnant golfer among the 84 contestants in the DRI, a tournament featuring 52 celebrities from sports and entertainment, 28 PGA Tour Champions players and four LPGA regulars.

If you are wondering what it’s like playing golf five months’ pregnant with your first child, Piller playfully will tell you. And she sounds as if she wants someone to give her strokes.

“I don’t hit it as far,” the 32-year-old Piller said Wednesday at Tranquilo Golf Club, where the 54-hole hybrid event starts Friday. “We were considering it a success when I made it to the fairway, which I've never had that problem. It's definitely different in that you don't realize how much core you use in your golf swing. I don't have quite the torque and rotation that I used to have, so I'm just going to have to bite the bullet. I’ll take accuracy and very solid shots over distance right now.”

Players in each division will play from the same tees in the modified Stableford format. Tranquilo measures 6,675 yards. Piller, with a due date of May 3, said she feels “great” but conceded: “Walking the golf course ... it’s really long.”

While other professionals are preparing for a new season, Piller will focus on motherhood after this week. She plans to take the entire LPGA season off on maternity leave. She’s also looking forward, for a change, to watching her husband of seven years, Martin Piller, play the PGA Tour.

“And when they tell me to stay home and not fly anymore, then I'll just be a mom and enjoy that special time and be ready to come back in 2019,” said Piller, who owns five top-10 finishes in major championships but still is seeking her first LPGA title since joining the tour in 2010.

Piller jokes that she often thinks of eating, as in, “when my next meal is and when’s the next one after that.” Although she is listed at 12-5 odds in the DRI’s four-woman LPGA division, Piller seems to discount her chances: “I want a little golf cart with little [handicap] flag and drive up on green.”

That said, there’s plenty of precedent of success by pregnant golfers. Catriona Matthew, then 39, won an unofficial 2009 LPGA event in Brazil while five months’ pregnant and then won the Women’s British Open 11 weeks after giving birth. Laura Diaz and Iben Tinning played in the 2005 Solheim Cup while pregnant. Janice Moodie played pregnant for several weeks in 2006 without a drop in performance. Nancy Scranton played while five months’ pregnant with twins in 2004. Nancy Lopez, Juli Inkster, Myra Blackwelder and others also competed while carrying baby bumps.

Brooke Henderson, at 9-5 odds, and Brittany Lincicome (11-5) are favored ahead of Piller, based on oddsmaker William Hill. Defending champion Woody Austin (4-1) and Joe Durant (5-1) top the professional division, and former major-league pitcher Mark Mulder and former tennis player Mardy Fish are co-favorites, at 12-5, to win the celebrity category.

Jeff Rude has covered golf for more than 30 years, most notably for two decades with Golfweek, and has hosted multiple national TV and radio shows. He covered 82 consecutive major championships. Email: igolfrude@aol.com; Twitter: @JeffRudeGolf