Cristie Kerr always talked bigger than her game, and she might last long enough on the LPGA Tour to back it up.
Nearly five months after knee surgery, and a recovery that took twice as long as expected, Kerr won the LPGA Lotte Championship in Hawaii last week in a manner that surprised everyone but her. She was on the wrong side of the cut 11 holes into her second round, ran off 21 birdies over the next 43 holes at Ko Olina, won by three shots and set the tournament's 72-hole record.
She referred to the final round as an "epic day."
"I wasn't playing too well, and then I just found something and was able to turn it on and I just kept going," Kerr said. "Like, it was an unbelievable run."
About the only thing that momentarily chilled her enthusiasm was a question related to her age. Kerr, who turns 40 in October, was asked what it was like to compete against so many players almost young enough to be her children.
"You know what? Sergio Garcia just won the Masters, nobody talked about his age, so I think we need to stop talking about age out here, shall we?" she said. "Yeah. That's all I have to say about that."
And then she went on to say plenty.
"Very few players are lucky enough like I am to have a career as long as I've had and be competitive as long as I've been competitive," Kerr said. "Having that experience and being competitive, it's an advantage."
That's what makes her career so compelling.
The best players of Kerr's generation qualified for the points-based LPGA Hall of Fame much younger, and much quicker. Annika Sorenstam was inducted at age 33. Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak were 30 at their inductions. Inbee Park qualified when she was 27.
Odds — and age — are against Kerr reaching the 27 points required for the LPGA Hall of Fame. Players get one point for an LPGA victory, Vare Trophy and Player of the Year award, and two points for a major. Her victory in Hawaii put her at 21 points.
Kerr's hallmark has been remarkable consistency, a reliable putter and no shortage of self-belief.
"She's a grinder," said Dottie Pepper, who has turned to broadcasting after her career was cut short by a shoulder injury. "And she's creeping up on some big numbers. There's nothing real flashy. You don't hear anyone say, 'Oh, I want to swing like her.' But they certainly want to putt like her."
Kerr won for the 19th time in an LPGA career that began 20 years ago. Only four players during that time have more victories — Sorenstam, Webb, Pak and Lorena Ochoa, who is headed for the World Golf Hall of Fame later this year.
She joined the LPGA Tour right out of Sunset High School in Miami, and while it took her five years to get her first victory, she has steadily built an impressive career one trophy at a time. Kerr has never won more than three times in a season (in 2004 and 2006), but she has gone only four seasons without winning since her first title.
Kerr's two majors were memorable — she held off Ochoa to win the 2007 U.S. Women's open, and she lapped the field by 12 shots to win the 2010 LPGA Championship.
Her victory last week was worth $300,000, making her a lock to finish in the top 50 on the LPGA Tour money list for the 19th consecutive year. It also was enough to push her over $18 million for her career, No. 3 on the all-time list behind Sorenstam and Webb.
But she has never been player of the year. She has never won a money title or the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. She just keeps going, compiling victories over a 16-year span and counting.
Is the Hall of Fame in her future?
Even if she doesn't get the 27 points for the LPGA version, the World Golf Hall of Fame has gone to a selection process voted on by a majority of golf administrators. This year's induction class includes Ochoa and Meg Mallon, who had 18 victories and four majors.
"I've always thought about it," Kerr said. "I mean, I've come this far and I don't plan on quitting golf any time soon. Why not?"
Kerr has come a long way from her teenage years on tour, with her big hair, Coke-bottle glasses and a confidence level that rubbed veterans the wrong way. She and her husband, Erik Stevens, have a 3-year-old son. Kerr has her own wine label and markets Curvature Wines and Kerr Cellars. She started "Birdies for Breast Cancer" after her mother was diagnosed in 2003, and she has raised more than $3 million. She also opened the Cristie Kerr Women's Health Center in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 2010.
"I think she got underestimated as the 18-year-old in the big glasses, not only with her golf game but with her strong will and the fact she's pretty smart," said Judy Rankin, a Hall of Famer and television analyst.
"She gets the job done, and I'm not sure how you don't admire that."