It seems like she’s been gone forever, but it’s only been a year. She, being Roswell’s Gerina Piller. She took a year off to have a baby — Gerina welcomed son, Ajeo James “A.J.” on April 26, 2018. While off during the year, Gerina enjoyed the pleasure of motherhood, especially being a mother for the first time. She traveled with husband, Martin, who is a golfer on the men’s PGA tour and went to some of his events.
While enjoying motherhood, being around the game of golf and watching Martin stoked the competitive fires in Gerina. She started practicing at home in Dallas, Texas and felt ready to face competition.
“I wouldn’t trade taking the time off to be with A.J.,” Gerina said. “That time with my son, I’ll never be able to replace that. That time is so special and it’s been really awesome to step away from golf for a year and just be a mom. I definitely missed golf, so I’m glad to be back out on the tour.”
Gerina made her return to the tour by playing in the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore in February. Once back out on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour, she has had to adjust her game and go through the process of hitting shots under match conditions as opposed to the practice.
“It’s been kind of a rough start to the year,” Gerina said. “I took over a year off from competitive golf. It’s a matter of how much you prepare as far as on the range and working out, putting and chipping. You can’t replicate tournament golf in those situations. I expected myself to jump back in it and be in contention like I was before. I’m starting to give myself some grace. I feel like my game is really close and it showed this weekend.”
In the Bank of Hope Founders Cup tournament, Gerina shot an opening round 78 but bounced back to shoot a 1-under-par 71. This was the first match she took A.J. on tour with her. Gerina is getting used to the demands of traveling with her son, as opposed to when it was just her on the tour.
After playing in nine tournaments this season, Gerina is getting more and more comfortable with the demands of the game. It’s been a big help that her mother, Rita, is retired and able to travel with her when she travels to events.
Another benefit to Gerina in pursuit of her golfing career is that the LPGA gives its players access to free childcare. The LPGA Child Development Center travels with the tour during its 10-month season. Smuckers sponsors the childcare on tour. They have the three same ladies so that the kids get familiar with the ladies looking after them.
“The LPGA makes it possible to chase our dream,” Gerina said. “Now I don’t have unlimited time to practice or play all day. I tell the daycare ladies, I’m going to play nine holes. I’ll drop A.J. off at 9 a.m. and come back by 3 p.m., whether I’m ready or not, I have to be done. That makes my golfing more purposeful.”
Gerina feels like motherhood has helped her with her perspective on life. She can have a bad day on the range and then go in and see A.J., and realize that her priorities are her family and son. Gerina cited some of the challenges of being a mother as opposed to when she was on the tour by herself, noting that everything takes twice as long, even just getting out the door.
Gerina told how just packing the bare minimum for her, A.J. and her mother, Rita, they checked six bags. She thought traveling was hard before, but she sees the difference.
“A.J. was sitting in daycare during the last round,” Gerina said. “He doesn’t have a clue what I was trying to do out there. That keeps it in perspective, he’s just waiting for mom to walk through that door; that’s all he cares about. That’s pretty cool — it doesn’t matter what I shoot, he still thinks I’m the greatest.”
On Sunday, Gerina, 33, showed her grit by bouncing back from a couple of double bogeys, to finish tied for fifth place in the U.S. Women’s Open to shoot a 68 in the final round to finish at 5-under-par, and have her best finish of the season.
“Finishing fifth in the Open is huge,” Gerina said. “I feel like my game is getting back to where it used to be. I missed the cut the week before in Virginia, and I’ve been working hard on every aspect of my game and to have it pay off is very rewarding.”
During the final round on Sunday, she was in contention and shared a tie for the lead. Gerina has some attainable goals this season, with one of them being in a position to get her first career win. The other is to make the Solheim team for the fourth time in her career. Currently, she is ranked as the No. 34 player in the world.
“It was nice to be in contention this last week,” Gerina said, “especially since it was a major. This has been my best finish of the year and I’m hoping to build off of this. I’m playing in New Jersey and I look forward to teeing it up and building more momentum.”
This week, Gerina is playing in the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway, New Jersey. Martin Piller is playing in the Canadian Open at the Hamilton Golf & Country Club this week on the PGA Tour.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or email@example.com.