U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Piller Has Simple Formula for Perfect Week
July 6, 2016 | San Martin, Calif.
By Tom Mackin
Gerina Piller has the chance to fulfill two career goals this week during the U.S. Women’s Open: win her first professional tournament and qualify for the USA women’s Olympic golf team. Continuing the steady play that has resulted in seven top-10 finishes in 2016 would go a long way on both counts.
Piller, 31, who played on the 2013 and 2015 USA Solheim Cup teams and is currently No. 16 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, needs a top-10 performance this week to move up one spot and guarantee herself a place in the Olympics next month with fellow Americans Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis, who are currently No. 4 and No. 8, respectively, in the world. The top 15 in the world are guaranteed places in Rio de Janeiro, up to a maximum of four players per country.
“It’s there and you can’t ignore it,” said Piller of the potential Olympic spot. “But as a player you can’t focus on it because it won’t make you qualify any faster. I’m in this position only because I’ve been playing consistent golf and that’s all I can do this week.”
A mental adjustment she made last October had a positive impact on Piller’s play. “In Korea (at the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship), I shot 6 under in the first round. The next day I went out with an attitude to just not make mistakes and I shot 2 over. After that I started to let myself play golf instead of trying to be perfect.”
That change in mindset has paid off. A tie for fourth place there led to eight top-10s in her next 13 tournaments. “If I can consistently be in contention, whether I'm winning or not, that's a huge success,” she said. “I've always thought about looking back on my career, and winning does not define my career. And I feel that if I can be successful and be more consistent, I think everything else will really take care of itself.”
Being part of the final group on Sunday – along with world No. 1 Lydia Ko – at last month’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship also boosted Piller’s confidence. “I think the biggest thing was I didn't feel like I was hitting it as well as I'd like to (that week) but I still put myself in contention,” said Piller, who finished 12th after a final-round 74. “I took a lot away from that, just to be in that situation. I've never played in the final group in a major and been that close, one shot off the lead, going into it.”
Still searching for that elusive first victory, Piller has benefited from advice by Juli Inkster, her Solheim Cup team captain last year. “She really encouraged me to just let my ability take over,” said Piller, who is sharing a house with Inkster this week. “She said, ‘You're good enough. You don't have to hit it perfect. You've just got to let yourself do it.’ If I come in here giving every shot my all, I think that I'll be in contention and hopefully get my first win. And if I do, that will definitely take care of that world ranking.”
One golfer familiar with CordeValle is Piller’s husband Martin, a PGA Tour player who tied for 60th in the 2011 Frys.com Open here. Yet the couple, who married five years ago, haven’t talked much about course strategy. “We don't play (the holes) in the same order as they played it, and I'm sure it's probably not played in the same condition,” she said. “It's a funny thing, we really don't talk about golf at home.”
They have, however, talked a bit about a potential trip to the Olympics, which Piller, a Roswell, N.M., native who played at the University of Texas, El Paso, grew up watching. She even briefly contemplated a gymnastics career. “But I’m not flexible and I can’t even touch my toes, so that dream kind of went out the window,” she said with a laugh.
Still, the pageantry and patriotism she witnessed on television every four years made a lasting impression. “Just to see those athletes when they’re getting their medal and the national anthem is playing, you could tell how much work they put in,” she said. “To be representing our country would be awesome. Nothing gives me more honor than to put on the Stars and Stripes.”
If she does qualify, it wouldn’t be her first trip to Rio. That happened in 2011 when Piller competed in the HSBC Brazil Cup at Itanhanga Golf Club. “I already have a Brazil stamp in my passport. But I would love to add another one.”
Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org