PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA | Sitting in the clubhouse at PGA National on Wednesday afternoon prior to the Honda Classic, Cristie Kerr wasted no time answering a question she knew was coming.
Would Kerr, a 20-time LPGA Tour winner and two-time major champion, be more nervous as an on-course reporter for Golf Channel than when she competes herself?
“I think the feelings I’ve had being here this week have been a little bit different than playing,” Kerr said. “Playing it’s like you’re very focused, you have your routine of what you do. Like this is a different experience for me. I think it’ll be a rush.
“I’m going to have a blast this week because I know I can’t play. Like when I was (working as an analyst) at the CME (Group Tour Championship) it was a great experience, I was there, but part of my heart hurt that I wasn’t playing. … Being here, doing this, knowing I can’t play in the tournament, it’s going to be a lot more fun for me.”
Among the first things Kerr noted before starting is that this new gig, which doesn’t come with any promises for future work, is that it’s not the end of her playing career. She finished tied for sixth at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open two weeks ago and tied for 11th at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio in January. And she won’t hesitate to remind you of that. Even at 42, Kerr hopes to play several more years. By the time it is all said and done, she will likely have passed $20 million in career earnings while competing in four different decades.
Still, Kerr recognizes that she is on the back nine of her career. She hasn’t collected a top-25 finish in a major the past two seasons and her world ranking has fallen to No. 99. More than anything, though, Kerr has aspirations beyond the golf course. In addition to the television experiment, she launched the Kerr Cellars wine label in 2013 and has two children under the age of 6.
When the opportunity arrived to work as an analyst at the LPGA’s CME Group Tour Championship last November, an opening that came through her friendship with Golf Channel producer Molly Solomon, Kerr jumped at the chance. When that went well, she spent time in the Golf Channel’s Orlando studio during the Sony Open at the beginning of the year.
“I’m a huge golf fan,” Kerr said. “I fly over to Hawaii for one of our (LPGA) tournaments on Saturday so I can watch the Sunday of the Masters and make breakfast. It’s a tradition. I watch as much golf as I can.”
“My mindset is just to be accurate, tell if somebody hit a great shot, brilliant shot, somebody hit a bad shot.” – Cristie Kerr
When Kerr discussed working a PGA Tour event with another Golf Channel producer, Tommy Roy, the Honda Classic became a perfect fit. Kerr was born in Miami, which is a couple of hours south of Palm Beach Gardens, and graduated from Miami Sunset High School in West Kendall. As a 17-year-old, she won the Girls Junior PGA Championship on the Champion Course at PGA National where the Honda Classic is being played this week. That year, Kerr earned AJGA Junior Player of the Year honors largely on the strength of outstanding golf in her native South Florida.
“I remembered a lot more of the golf course than I thought I would,” Kerr said.
On-course reporting has seen some significant shifts over the past few years. Among the changes, Jim “Bones” Mackay went from caddying for Phil Mickelson to calling golf for NBC and Davis Love III started a new role at CBS. Perhaps the most high-profile character to do it, David Feherty, moved from CBS to NBC in 2015 and the musical chairs of on-course reporting began.
Paul Azinger has spent almost all of his broadcasting career in the booth, but he understands the dynamic of being on the ground calling golf shots.
“The mechanics of it can overwhelm you sometimes, I suppose,” Azinger said. “But you get used to it. It never bothered me. I don’t think it’s going to bother her. The only thing that would make her nervous is not having been around the men’s game that much. If you were doing the LPGA it would be easy as pie. There wouldn’t be any nerves.
“It’s wondering what you don’t know that’s the worst thing. In the end it’s golf, so she’s going to be able to look at the ground and look at the lie and tell us how far it is. Evaluate and be yourself, that’s the thing. She knows golf as well as anybody.”
In a situation like this one, Kerr has sought advice from all parties. The words of wisdom from Azinger? Let the picture be descriptive, so you can be informative.
Mackay also offered a couple of tips to Kerr, telling her to be careful of talking downwind and to be cognizant of holes that run parallel to the one she is calling. Early in his reporting duties, Mackay accidentally went into another fairway and didn’t realize he was in the way of another group.
But mainly it comes down to adding interesting comments the audience can’t immediately see on the screen. There was no better example of that than during Friday’s play when Kerr followed Justin Rose on the par-4 13th. When Rose’s ball plugged into a palm tree and prompted him to take an unplayable lie, Kerr added that the unfortunate break wasn’t so bad after all — his drive probably would have gone out of bounds into someone’s backyard had it not hit the tree. Moments later when he found the green with his third shot, Kerr explained that it would be his “second miracle par in a row” if he made the ensuing putt.
Those types of subtle comments go unnoticed many times by viewers, but they add texture to a telecast. It builds a storyline and offers the audience a reason to be invested in the outcome.
Like anything else, it gets better with time and understanding.
“My mindset is just to be accurate, tell if somebody hit a great shot, brilliant shot, somebody hit a bad shot,” Kerr said. “Try to talk about what I do know and not try to make up for what I don’t know about the players out here because that takes time.
“Hopefully not say something stupid. Get through the day and go have my glass of wine.”
Cristie Kerr performs some on-course work for Golf Channel during the first round of the Honda Classic. Photo: Sam Greenwood, Getty Images
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