Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Gerina Piller has been a top golfer ever since she landed on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour in 2007. The 33-year-old Roswell native this season has swapped tee-times for feeding times with the birth of her two-month-old son, Ajeo James Piller born Mar. 26, 2018. Her son was named after her mother’s father who passed away when Piller was 13 years old. She wanted to honor him and carry on his name.
“It is so amazing to be a mom,” Piller said. “It’s hard work, but people tell you there’s nothing like the love you have for your kid and it’s true. We’re very blessed to play golf and they (LPGA) provides up to a year for maternity leave so I can spend this time with him. My plan is to play in the first domestic event they have in 2019. The LPGA hasn’t come out with a schedule yet.”
Piller gets her athleticism from her mother, Rita, who played volleyball at Eastern New Mexico University. Not only did she receive her mother’s athletic ability she also got her tenacity and work ethic from her. Rita was a single mother and worked three jobs and went to school to support her family.
“As a kid, Piller said, “you don’t know any better until you get older and realize how hard it is to be a single mother.” “She (Rita) would never tell us no on our sports, she was there for us. I remember when I played baseball she was our coach. She coached my brother and me. At the time I felt like she was a little hard on us, but now I know she was trying to make us better. She applauded us on every good thing we did, but she would critique us on what we needed to work on. I appreciate the sacrifices she made in her life to better our lives as a family and not just her life. I think the world of her she has inspired me to be the best that I can be.”
This is the first year in Piller’s life she has been on the sidelines and had to watch. She doesn’t worry about being competitive once she picks up the clubs again. In fact, she is getting the desire to play again and watches the LPGA on TV. She traveled with her husband (Martin) to tournaments until she couldn’t. Piller plans on getting back into the swing of things, while off she has been watching golf on TV and been taking mental reps of shots various golfer hit.
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“I don’t feel like I will lose that competitive edge,” Piller said. “I guess we’ll find out next year. I’m getting the itch to get back out there.”
Many golfers have had questions about their competitive desire to win once they become mothers. Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez struggled with that question when her first child daughter, Ashley was born. Lopez didn’t know if she could play well and it wasn’t until she finally was back on the course until she was in contention to win again.
“I didn’t know if I would be as tough,” Lopez said. “I was able to come back. I learned after I had Erinn to juggle different hats I wore as a mother, person and professional athlete and whatever mothers do.”
Motherhood never stopped Lopez, it made her adjust her schedule and priorities to be the best parent she could be when she was with her children and to be as competitive when she was on the course.
“I wanted to have children during my career,” Lopez said, “ I wanted to give them 100 percent of me as much as I could. I felt like they got that.”
Piller got her start in golf by playing baseball in Lions Hondo Little league until she was 13 years-old. While she was playing a couple wanted to teach her how to play golf, but they never called so the golf clubs stayed on the shelf until she went to high school. Her dad (Alan Stevenson) made her pick two sports and volleyball was her fall sport and Piller needed a spring sport. Stevenson told her she could try golf.
Piller at first was hesitant and thought golf was lame, but her dad convinced her golf was kinda like baseball and showed her how to play and she grew to like it. She joined the high school team and she heard a lot of college scholarships weren’t used by girls for golf because of Title IX. Piller realized she was too short to play volleyball at college and if she got good enough at golf she could earn a scholarship.
Piller remembers the time her dad (Alan) made an impact on her life when she was first starting out in golf. Piller was having a tough time and wanted to quit. Stevenson talked her out of it. Telling her you don’t just quit, he made her realize that when you play a sport that is individual it puts the spotlight on the individual. He told her she was going to have good days and bad days and to keep at it.
“I definitely saw a future in golf,” Piller said.” I always thought I’d be a professional athlete, I never thought I’d be a professional golfer. I always thought I’d be the first girl kicker in the National Football League, or the first girl in Major League Baseball. I started playing golf and finding out more about golf and college. I got good at it and I thought I’d try to be a professional golfer and make a career out of it. I’ve been very fortunate and blessed.”
At Goddard, Piller learned from legendary golf coach Becky Robertson. Robertson taught Piller that golf was hard work and if she was going to be good at it she needed to be dedicated. The one thing Robertson liked about Piller was her persistence to work hard and do things the right way no matter how long it took.
“She (Robertson) prepared me like no other. She made practice fun every day after school. She taught us chipping, putting.”
After winning state her senior year at Goddard, Piller never knew the University of Texas-El Paso existed. She won a late tournament that she was noticed by UTEP coach Jere Pelletier. Piller liked the coach and the city El Paso, and it wasn’t too far away from Roswell, and they offered her a full-ride scholarship.
Piller was looking for a school that would give her a lot of experience and playing time. She didn’t want to go to a school where she was the best on the team and she wouldn’t get better, and she didn’t want to go to a school where she wouldn’t make the team and not get any playing time.
Her college coach, Jere Pelletier became her swing coach as a pro. Her swing and golf game has gotten better every year she was in college. Prior to going to college, Piller had only played golf for three years. Her game grew so much that she started thinking about becoming a professional. At UTEP she won four tournaments her senior year and was Conference USA individual champion in 2007, as well as Player of the Year and UTEP Female Athlete of the Year.
“I felt like my ability progressed really quickly,” Piller said. “My confidence was kind of lacking because I didn’t have the experience.”
Some of the best memories Piller has had as a professional golfer has been winning the Solheim Cup and the Olympics.
“Any time I can represent my country,” Piller said. “With golfers, it’s just you and your caddy and there are not very many times you can represent your country. The Solheim Cup and the Olympics are times I will cherish. One time, in particular, is when I made the winning putt for the Solheim Cup in 2015. That is something I will never forget and will always cherish the rest of my life.”
Piller best memories in playing sports at Goddard was winning the state championship in volleyball her sophomore and junior years. She feels like being on a team at Goddard and being a team player has helped her be a good teammate on the Solheim Cup and the Olympics.
“Being a team player,” Piller said, “you have to learn to be a team player. I’ve always explained to people there are girls on my team that I probably might not have much in common with them besides the sport we play, but I knew the second we put on the same jersey that I had their back and they had mine. That contributed to the Solheim Cup, to share that with the girls on the team in 2015 helped with our comeback.”
Piller’s advice to athletes that want to play golf would be to practice the short game in golf and to develop the mental game as well. She stresses to believe in yourself and to have hard work and dedication to the game of golf.
“It’s just you out there,” Piller said. “There’s no one out there to pick up the slack, or in football, you might miss a block and you’d have someone to pick up the block. In golf, it is all you so having that belief in yourself is very important.”
Piller would like her legacy to be that she is a daughter of Jesus Christ. She doesn’t believe she wouldn’t be anywhere without her relationship with God. She wants to give back to the game of golf, her community, Roswell, and kids.
“I want to inspire kids to be great,” Piller said. “I want them to follow their dreams, I want them to know if they work hard and sacrifice and are dedicated there’s no job they can’t do. There are companies that look for that all the time, if you have those traits you will never go without.”
At the time of her maternity leave, she was ranked 43rd in the world. Piller last played in the Bank Championship in Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia at the Tiburon Golf Club in Nov. 2017.