When she was playing in a tournament, Gerring would often tell herself before each swing, "Pretend this is the last shot you're ever going to hit."
"You pretend like it's your last shot, but it's not supposed to happen," she says. "You don't believe that it would actually be your last swing."
Three years have passed since Gerring hit her last shot on the LPGA tour. Now two or three times a week she hits balls or plays a round with Jim at Muirfield Village. Drives that used to go 240 yards now go 210. "I'm telling my hands to do one thing and they're not doing what I want them to," she says. "I've lost some control. My right hand gets so weak, no matter how hard I try to get the hand to exert a lot of speed, sometimes it just doesn't respond and the ball keeps going to the right. So I slow it down and lose distance.
"Your hands are the only thing attached to the club, that's your lifeline," she says. She has limited feeling in her hands, and her exquisite touch, so important to her short game, is gone. Because of the permanent tissue damage, her hands swell after hitting 50 balls. Before the accident, she would hit 300 or 400 balls a day. Now when the weather is warm, her hands expand like water balloons. "My hands change all the time," she says, wearily. "It's hard to adapt to different conditions."
Then there are times when she feels as if a thousand pins are being stuck into her hands. This condition, called paresthesia, flares up with a sudden rush of adrenaline. When Gerring watched her best friend, tour player Juli Inkster, at the U.S. Open two years ago, her hands felt like voodoo dolls stuck with so many pins and needles. "I was really nervous for her," Gerring says, "and I remember thinking, If this is how I feel watching a friend play, how would it be if I was the one playing?
"One goal I set for myself is to play one more tournament, just so the Sara Lee isn't the last one in my career," she says. Will it be next year? Ten years from now? She is not sure.
"She doesn't know if coming back is possible right now. But she could do it if she put her mind to it," says Inkster. Beyond the physical struggle, Gerring would have to silence the voice of self-doubt that cautions, There's no guarantee you can do it. You're setting yourself up for another letdown. And she would have to tune out the voice that follows her around the course saying, "Before the accident, you would have made that shot."
Her father, Bill Kratzert Jr., the head pro at the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Country Club, wonders if his daughter can adjust her game. "Cathy loves it so much," he says. "It would be better to give it a whirl now instead of wondering in 10 or 15 years if she could have done it. She hasn't gotten the fire out of her system." It's not clear if he's referring to the fire that took away such promise, or another fire that is still crackling within.
"I'll never give up; it's not in me," Gerring says. One more tournament. She will hit every shot as if it's her last. Then she will leave on her own terms.