Where was Cathy Gerring? The bottom line was ominous. The final
score listed at last week's Chick-fil-A Charity Championship
read GERRING...WD. After only three holes Gerring, whose
attempts to return from a horrific 1992 accident had so far
gotten her nowhere, had hurried off the course and sped away. "I
went to the doctor's and got a cortisone shot in my hand," she
explained a few hours later. "He said, 'This is going to hurt,'
and you know what? I almost laughed."
Six years ago last weekend, Gerring was in a buffet line at the
Sara Lee Classic when a caterer spilled alcohol on a live flame.
The 1990 Bounceback Player of the Year, who had shot from 90th
to fourth on the money list that season, was engulfed in flames.
"I put up my hands and they caught fire. I thought I was dying,"
says Gerring, 37, who remembers every instant of her ordeal from
the moment her husband, Jim, tackled her and extinguished the
blaze to her 12 days at Vanderbilt Medical Center, where she
screamed through twice-daily sessions in which seven layers of
burned skin were scraped from her face and hands.
Gerring says she can "hardly feel" her hands.
"It's ironic. I was a touch player, a hands player, and now I
can hardly feel my hands," says the former Ohio State
All-America. For more than a year, unable to grip a club, she
wore elastic gloves over her skin grafts. In 1996, after three
full seasons on the sidelines, she rejoined the tour but made
only one cut in 10 events. This spring she redoubled her
efforts, constantly fiddling with her grip and swing, seeking
the touch she had lost, but the results were worse than ever: No
cuts made in six tries. Her earnings are $0. Her name does not
appear on the tour's weekly list of players.
"I'm at the bottom of the barrel," she said after shooting 82-86
at the City of Hope two weeks ago to miss another cut. Then came
the Chick-fil-A, where the pain in her hands was so intense that
she flinched each time she hit the ball. "A mental disaster,"
she called her three-hole outing. "Being scared of pain is a
horrible feeling. I'm like a football player who hears
footstepsthe guy who goes down before he's hit."
Down but not out, Gerring returned to her Cornelius, N.C., home
with what she calls good news: "I have acute tendinitis and a
small stress fracture. By changing my grip and hitting two or
three hundred balls a day, I put too much pressure on my right
hand, but with rest I might be able to play in three weeks."
Still, a touch player with little or no sensation in her hands
probably has a limited future, and Gerring gets constant
reminders of the odds stacked against her. On hot days, her
hands get puffy because most of their sweat glands were
destroyed. On cold days, her fingers ache. She also suffers from
paresthesia, a pain she compares to being stabbed by needles.
Her pride is undamaged. "What really hurts is that I got to the
top of my sport, and now I have to crawl and scratch to be the
same person I was," says Gerring. "Maybe I should quit, but I
want to make that choice myself, not let this horrible injury do
Her supporters include husband Jim, pro emeritus at Muirfield
Village in Dublin, Ohio; her brother, former Tour pro Bill
Kratzert; best friend Juli Inkster; and sons Zach and Jayme.
"Zach's nine. He's been to a few of my tournaments," she says.
"When someone asked for my autograph, he said, 'Mom, they must
have known you when you were good.'"
Gerring, who keeps playing partly to set an example for her
sons, hopes to tee it up unflinchingly on May 14 at the
McDonald's LPGA Championship, the tour's next major. She
believes in fighting fire with competitive fire. "I'd give
anything to get into contention even once," she says. "Just
oncethen all this would be easier to live with. Maybe it'll
happen at the McDonald's."
Those who applaud her return may note that they can feel their
hands while doing it.
Issue date: May 4, 1998