Gerina Piller woke up early April 26 feeling what she thought might be labor contractions. Who knows, she thought to herself, trying to ignore them, she’d never had contractions before. Husband Martin was scheduled to compete in Round 1 of the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic in New Orleans with Joel Dahmen. If she waited too long to tell Martin, she decided, he might not make it back to Texas in time.
At 3:30 a.m. Gerina placed the call. She checked into the hospital at 4:20 a.m., and Martin boarded a 6 a.m. flight. Her parents began the 7½-hour drive from New Mexico. Everyone arrived in plenty of time for the 9:51 p.m. arrival of Ajeo James “AJ” Piller, who weighed in at 7 pounds, 15 ounces.
Being a mom ‘pretty awesome’
“It’s still crazy to think that I’m a mom,” said Piller, who then went quiet for a few beats on the other end of the line.
“It’s a miracle that your body can sustain life inside of you, and then go through labor and birth,” she continued through heaving sobs. “Just to hold him – it has been pretty awesome.”
Gerina, 33, decided to take off the entire year from the LPGA. But that didn’t mean she gave up tour life. From January to April she traveled to eight PGA Tour events with Martin, reveling in the fact that when a 4 a.m. alarm went off, it wasn’t for her. It marked the most time the two traveling golf professionals had spent together in their entire relationship.
“It’s either going to be really awesome,” Gerina joked at the start, “or we’re going to hate each other.”
She loved it, of course, but is now grounded for the time being as she adjusts to life as a new mom. When the LPGA recently came to Dallas, not too far from the Pillers’ home, several players stopped by, including Morgan Pressel, Stacy Lewis and Cristie Kerr. LPGA super mom Juli Inkster came over a couple times and remains on speed dial.
“What I told Gerina is you have to give yourself time to heal, both mentally and physically,” said Inkster, who raised two daughters while building a Hall of Fame resume. “You really need to take care of your body … when he sleeps, you sleep. Who cares if the dishes aren’t done or the laundry’s not done? When you get run down he senses it, and all hell breaks loose.”
Inkster, 57, hosted a Mother’s Day dinner for her own mother in California on Sunday and planned to cook for 20 people. She learned her way around a kitchen out of necessity, because taking two young kids out to restaurants on the road was rough.
“I’d order and get the check at the same time,” she said.
Baby boom on way in LPGA
With Stacy Lewis due in early November, Inkster half-joked that the pingpong table at the Solheim Cup might be replaced with a kiddie play room. After a lull in newborns on the LPGA – only Kerr and Karine Icher used the LPGA’s daycare service last year – there’s a boom coming. Sydnee Michaels gave birth to Isla Louise in November and is back on tour, traveling with her daughter. Brooke Pancake is due with her first child in June, and Suzann Pettersen, who hasn’t played all season, is due this fall.
On a tour where so many young players talk about quitting the game at 30 – and where top players such as Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam walked away to start families – it’s with interest that the golf world watches how the likes of Lewis and Piller return to balance both. Kerr, mom to Mason, won three times in 2017, a year that she turned 40. Catriona Matthew, who has two school-aged girls, won a major shortly after giving birth.
“I don’t think as a woman you should have to decide between having a family and having a career,” Inkster said. “Is it easy? No. But to me, looking back on it, I grew so much as a person and a mom going through what I went through.”
Gerina plans to return to competition in 2019 and will bring younger sister Kristen on the road with her as a nanny.
“My plan from Day 1 was to come back,” Gerina said.
To a job that won’t ever be the same. Gwk