Linda Kerr has six scrap-books filled with newspaper clippings, magazine articles, pictures and other mementos from her 23-year-old daughter Cristie's years as an amateur golfer. There are stories about how, as a member of the boys' team at Sunset High in Miami, Cristie beat Raymond Floyd's son Robert to help Sunset win the 1994 district championship. Several pieces are devoted to Cristie's eight victories in American Junior Golf Association events in 1995, the year she was named that tour's player of the year. There are also articles on Cristie's decision, on June 23, 1996—her father's birthday—to forgo college and turn pro, including the one in which she predicted stardom for herself on the LPGA tour. "My goal is to shoot a 59 or a 60, and then do it again on the hardest course possible," she told the St. Petersburg Times.
Four years later Linda has completed only one scrapbook devoted to Cristie's pro career. Although Kerr made it through Q school on her initial try, she quickly went from extraordinary to ordinary. Forget about any 59s. It took Kerr nearly her entire rookie year on the LPGA tour to break 70 for the first time. She missed more cuts (14) than she made (13), her best finish was a 15th, and she wound up a dismal 112th on the money list. "I thought I was going to do what Karrie [Webb] is doing now," Kerr says. "I was in shock. I was intimidated. For the first time, I questioned myself."
Kerr's parents were also at a loss. "It was the hardest time of her life, and as a parent you feel helpless," says Linda. "I'd call up friends and tell them, 'For god's sake, pick up the phone and call her.' I didn't want to call her. I didn't want to ask her about her golf. [Her dad] was bringing it up all the time."
Michael Kerr wanted to be a supportive father, but he knew that the girl the Florida press had dubbed the Tiger Woods of women's golf lacked the maturity necessary for success. Nevertheless, he told her again and again not to worry, that he knew she could do it. "Maybe that was putting too much pressure on her," he says. "You try to say only positive things, but it doesn't always work."
Michael wanted to have the same type of relationship with Cristie, Linda's and his only child, that Earl Woods has with Tiger. Years ago, at a tournament in Coral Gables, Fla., Michael had heard Earl lecture Tiger after a match. "Earl would ask him who was responsible for a particular shot," Kerr says. "He was very analytical and positive. He was teaching Tiger why he didn't perform the way he was capable of performing. Tiger would listen and nod. He was very respectful."
The dynamic between Michael, who left his job as an elementary school teacher to travel with his teenage daughter during her first year on the LPGA tour, and Cristie was more complex. "My dad wanted to shelter me from all the hype and from everybody," Cristie says. "I was 18. Like any normal 18-year-old, a part of me went through a rebellion stage."
Kerr didn't have friends on tour. It was just she and her dad, and they did everything together. He caddied for her and they had meals together. They also had their share of arguments. She didn't always want to have dinner at 6 p.m.
Michael says he wanted to shield Cristie from the jealously of the veteran players and the cynicism of the press. "It bothered me that Cristie got a bum rap from the media," he says. "They said she was cocky. They thought she was a smart-ass. She wasn't. She was quiet. I didn't want her bothered by the negative stuff."
A few months into the '97 season Cristie and her dad agreed that she would be better off hiring local caddies, and in September she shot a 64 in the second round of the Fieldcrest Cannon Classic, her low round of the season. "At that age it's very difficult for fathers and daughters to get along," Michael says. "It's like teaching a kid how to drive a car. There comes a point where you have to step back. I was reluctant, but I wanted the best for her."
The time and money Michael had spent on Cristie, though, had an adverse effect on his marriage. In April 1998 he and Linda separated. A year later they divorced. In August '98, Michael was back in a classroom in Miami and Cristie was on her own. "I was my own boss," she says. "I could work out or eat whenever I wanted." She was also showing signs of steady improvement, dropping her scoring average more than half a stroke and improving to 74th on the money list.