Gerina Piller: My New Breakthrough Favorite

Gerina Piller used to be my dark horse favorite to win any given tournament. But with her stellar performance last week at the CME Group Titleholders in Naples, Florida, that tag no longer fits. She’s now become my breakthrough favorite because when she does, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone.

Gerina had the best tournament of her three-year career. She finished 2nd by a stroke to Shanshan Feng and just a 10-foot putt away from a playoff for the winner’s $700,000 share of the $2 million purse.

Well, the second shot, it was kind of on an upslope so I figured if I just get it up in the wind the more it will carry, and the higher I hit it the softer it’s going to land.  I had some juices going so I just took a 7 iron and that’s what you practice for.  So I just stood over it and said just trust yourself and I hit it pretty good and it ended up really good.

The putt, I thought it was going right, I didn’t know it was going to break that much, and just I was happy with the way I hit the putt, I just didn’t read enough break. 

She got herself to that point with her normal scrappy play, blast it down the fairway and keep leaning forward. She bogeyed the 2nd and got it back on 3. She birdied the 6th and gave it back on 7 to finish even par on the front. And then she birdied 13, 15, 17 to put herself just right there.

Here’s a post I wrote about her tenacity in August of 2012, “Gerina Piller: It’s Never Over Until It’s Over.” It begins with a vignette about a friend, a very nice player, who gave up on his round after his first two tee shots were hooked into the left rough. As opposed to Gerina at the Safeway Classic up in Portland who fought back from a 4-over start to a 2-under finish. It was a lesson for all of us who find disappointment in a bad shot.

She always hits it great, but thinks the most improved aspect of her game is the quality of her ball striking:

I would say probably my ball striking as far as not so much like longer or anything, more consistent.  I know I’ve been hitting more greens and just depends on kind of how I’m putting.  If I’m putting good, I’m usually under par, a couple under par a lot.  This next year definitely I’ll work on my putting a lot more.

With all the possible variables, she’s simplified her approach to each hole in her round; always thinking birdie unless the hole doesn’t set up for it:

I mean, if you’re going to win a tournament you’ve got to play well.  I just think that you just have to take advantage of the holes that give you birdie [opportunities] and par the holes that don’t. [It depends on the hole locations] and some of those pins were accessible today and some of them weren’t.

And in her reflections after her round, she was very happy with what she was able to accomplish, not the least of which was that she actually led the tournament at points throughout the day:

Absolutely.  I’ve never led an LPGA event — I did, I guess, the LPGA Championship for one hole but I didn’t know I was leading so that doesn’t count.  So to come out and grind like I did and give myself an opportunity to force a playoff, I’m pretty excited about that.

Her other highlight of the year from a career building point of view was her selection as a captain’s pick to the Solheim Cup.

Well, I’m ecstatic just to be where I am and just to make the Solheim Cup has always been a dream of mine. I didn’t think it was going to happen so soon and hopefully it’s just the first of many for me to play.

I’m really excited for my year. Just felt like my game is very consistent this year and this tournament was huge, it kind of gives me momentum going into next year.

A nice upbeat finish to her year.

Finally, I first watched Gerina play in person at the inaugural 2011 RR Donnelley Founders Cup where she pulled off a similar feat as in Portland going from 4-over to 1-under. That one I saw in person and wrote about in, “This Is Mastery.”

The best part of that post is that I was able to catch her right after she came out of Scoring and she was gracious enough to give me an interview just short of fifteen minutes long. We discussed her experience on the Golf Channel’s Big Break, some of the mastery techniques she uses to stay centered and the spiritual underpinnings of her life. I also had a chance to meet her mother and have a rolling conversation with her husband, Martin, during the round.

All of that’s in there and, if I do say so myself, might be one of my better posts.

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