CARBONDALE — Erica Kerr's breakout season for the SIU women's golf team came like her best round: slow and steady.
The junior from Peoria had a career scoring average over 80 entering this season because she struggled to stop one bad hole from becoming one bad round. A four-time Illinois High School Association state qualifier at Richwoods High School, she played in only three tournaments as a freshman but shot 17 rounds in the 70s as a sophomore. Kerr, a biology major that is pursuing becoming a physician's assistant, said she figured out how to keep things in perspective.
"Golf is a game. It's not going to define me," Kerr said. "It is my life right now, but no one is going to remember my eight 10 years from now, so, meditating definitely helps with the positive thinking. You can never get too high or too low."
This year she is the top scorer for the Salukis' first Missouri Valley Conference champions in 12 years at 77.71 strokes per 18 holes. Kerr's 1-under par 71 in the first round of the Saluki Invitational, her first round under par at SIU, helped the Salukis win their first tournament of the year. Their second one was a big one under first-year head coach Danielle Kaufman, when SIU rallied on the final day to win the league tournament in Chesterton, Indiana.
The Salukis left for Cle Elum, Washington, Friday morning, where they will open the NCAA regionals Monday at Tumble Creek at Suncadia.
"The mental game will be important for us," Kerr said. "Short game, and if you miss a green, nothing more than a bogey. (Kaufman) has been telling us that all year, and I think it really hit us at conference that we've gotta scramble around to not get those big numbers. A bogey is easy to make up, but once you get that double, you need two birdies to make that up, and that's a hard task to do."
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To help Kerr keep her big numbers to a minimum, Kaufman used some of the same relaxation techniques some CEOs employ.
"Say she triples a hole, she'll get really, really upset, to the point where she gets emotional, and when she gets to that point, it blocks her from continuing to play well," Kaufman said. "So, I literally go to a hole with her, and we'll talk it out. We'll even do breathing exercises, or anything and everything. It literally took her from that to a completely different game."
Kerr played softball and basketball for four years, in addition to golf, after picking up the game with her father. She played every position on the basketball court, but always knew it probably wasn't in her future. Today, she is captain of the best women's golf team in the MVC, one that features two underclassmen in its top five.
Kerr said the game against herself is still a work in progress.
"I've been told 'Take deep breaths. Relax,' so many times on the course, and it helps. But it only helps for about 10 seconds," she said. "If I have to keep doing it, I'm going to keep doing it until I slow down and forget about the shot, and get a good hole running."