Editor’s note: This feature first ran in Golfweek magazine that hit doorsteps on Feb. 28, 2014. If you’d like to subscribe, click here.
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Cristie Kerr and husband Erik Stevens became parents seconds after they went through a security line in the Delta terminal at LaGuardia Airport.
“I always knew we’d become parents in an airport,” Stevens cracked.
The couple FaceTimed with their newborn son, Mason Kerr Stevens, from the operating room, along with the surrogate mother and doctor, of course. Mason, conceived through in vitro fertilization, is genetically theirs.
“I’m bawling my eyes out by the Hudson News store and people are looking at us,” Kerr said. “We were absolutely beside ourselves.”
Had it not been Sunday Kerr – a 16-time winner on the LPGA who splits her time with Stevens between homes in New York City and Scottsdale, Ariz – said she could’ve hired a private plane to get down to Florida. Instead they found themselves waiting alongside the masses, unable to make it in time for Mason’s long-awaited arrival.
The new parents looked to toast their son at the airport, but, again, it was Sunday morning, and alcohol wouldn’t be served until noon.
Eventually, they settled into their seats on the plane. Kerr felt her skin begin to crawl as the minutes ticked by.
Then suddenly, fear struck.
“Oh, my God! Both of us are on this flight!” Kerr said to Stevens. “What if something happens to this flight?”
Of all the flights over all the years that Kerr had taken in her golfing career, never before had that thought crossed her mind. Her center had shifted.
“The mom nagging immediately started,” said Kerr, who told Stevens that he couldn’t have any alcohol on the plane because he had to drive.
When the couple arrived at the hospital, a crowd had gathered around Mason.
“He was the big star of the day there,” Kerr said. Unquestionably his mother’s son.
The road to Mason Kerr Stevens’ entry into the world began after Kerr won the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open – when she and Erik first started trying to get pregnant – and culminated with a surrogacy birth on Dec. 8 in Florida, of which the exact location, for legal purposes, cannot be disclosed.
Doctors ultimately advised against Kerr, now 36, carrying a baby for medical reasons. They faced two options to grow their family: surrogacy or adoption.
Kelli Kuehne, Mason’s godmother, said at first her close friend of 20 years worried what people would think.
“Cristie, who is going to judge you or think less of you as a person because you couldn’t conceive and carry a child?” Kuehne asked.
Because certain states legally protect biological parents better than others, Stevens said the first challenge was finding someone in the right state.
Then came the matter of finding a perfect match.
“They kind of tell you, ‘This person won’t be around very long (meaning she’ll be chosen quickly), so if you like them, you’ve got to move on them,’ ” Kerr said. “I was like, I can’t. This person is going to carry our child. It’s not like an everyday thing.”
In the end, the first surrogate they liked wound up being the one whom they chose.
At first there were weekly updates, and as they moved closer to Mason’s birth, daily ones.
“He did a fist-pump in the womb,” Kerr said of a sonogram. “That was taken on Friday when I was leading in Canada.”
The first few days of motherhood, Kerr said, were intimidating. Tour super mom Juli Inkster assured her Solheim Cup teammate that babies are more resilient than you might think.
“Have you ever swaddled a baby?” Kerr asked, carrying son Mason back to the nursery.
A confident Kerr is now ready to give lessons on the subject.
“I feel like I was always born to be a mom,” she said.
Anyone who knows Kerr shouldn’t be surprised. Whether it’s winning golf tournaments, building a wine brand or rolling out a pizza-pie crust, Kerr’s unabashed, get-after-it approach makes her a quick study. The same calculated, organized preparation that Kerr puts into her golf game has been applied to Mason’s chest of drawers.
“Cristie has clothing from, like, birth to 18 years old, all color-coordinated,” Stevens said. “I’m like ‘Cristie, it’s not a putt. You don’t have to line up everything for the kid.’ ”
The garage is stock-piled with diapers, as if a snowstorm might blanket Scottsdale at any minute.
“I could feed Africa,” Stevens said jokingly, referring to their formula supply.
Back in the pirate-themed nursery, Kerr wanted to know which parent Mason looked like.She flipped through family photo albums so guests could compare old polaroids of Erik and Cristie to the 8-week-old baby blanket.
“You think he looks like me more?” Kerr asked, bursting with pride. “Because in the beginning, he looked like Erik.”
Last week’s tournament in Thailand marked the start of Kerr’s 2014 LPGA season, her 18th on tour. While on the Asian Swing, Kerr can use Wi-Fi to see Mason at home live from his crib on a video monitor.
Last October, she reserved houses at many domestic stops this year to have room for family and friends who plan to come help.
When they’re at home in Scottsdale, Kerr and Stevens have a night nurse come in to ensure that mom and dad get a good night’s rest.
Some people are like, ‘Oh, that’s cheating,’ ” Kerr said. “But if everybody could do it, they would.”
Kuehne said that having golf come second will be a great adjustment for Kerr. The challenge will be not being too hard on herself when practice takes a backseat.
“How has it changed her?” asked good friend Morgan Pressel. “I don’t know; she’s still Cristie. (Parenthood) has brought her some peace. It’s so easy to be consumed with golf. You spend so much time on the range, you forget that’s not your life. It’s your job.”
Two days after Mason was born, the family of three boarded a private plane and headed west. As they touched down at the Scottsdale Airport, a golf ball from nearby TPC Scottsdale put a dimpled dent in the plane. Kerr pulled out her cellphone to offer proof.
“Is that some kind of omen?” Stevens asked.
Golf’s lucky strike.