Golf

Late to golf, Piller is in the hunt for first LPGA Tour title at Sahalee

Gerina Piller putts at the seventh hole Saturday at Sahalee. Piller is tied for second at one-under 212.
Gerina Piller putts at the seventh hole Saturday at Sahalee. Piller is tied for second at one-under 212. The Associated Press

If a wife knows her husband best, then Martin Piller better be home packing boxes of clothes and Tupperware this weekend for the couple’s impending move in Plano, Texas.

Of course, Gerina (Mendoza) Piller wouldn’t mind him making a surprise detour to Sahalee Country Club, either.

The Pillers are the only husband-wife team on the PGA and LPGA Tours. Martin Piller missed the cut at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tennessee, on Friday.

And Gerina Piller is right in the thick of the hunt at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. She is one of three golfers under par, a stroke behind the leader, and will play in the final group Sunday with top-ranked Lydia Ko and former major winner Brittany Lincicome.

“I’m not sure if he is on a plane or not,” Piller said after the third round Saturday afternoon.

Breakthroughs on the LPGA Tour are happening at a younger age — particularly this season, when the median age for tournament winners is 21.

At 31, Piller is not only a late bloomer on the LPGA Tour, in search of her first career victory, she was late to golf anyway.

A New Mexico native, Piller played just about every sport early in life but golf. She was even a cheerleader for one year.

“I loved playing baseball with the guys. I was a pitcher and catcher,” she said. “And nothing brought me more joy than to stand on the mound, warm up, and you could see the little boys talking over there, ‘Oh, home run.’

“I’d kind of egg it on. I’d just kind of lob it in there (during warm-ups), and when they’d get to the plate, I’d fire it in there and send them back to the dugout — tail between their legs.”

To this day, Piller said if she could have advanced as far in volleyball as she has in golf, the choice wouldn’t be difficult. It would be volleyball.

“It’s just so fast-paced ... and it’s so funny that I went from that, where you’re basically yelling at the other team when you spike it down their throat, to golf, where you have to be very quiet and can’t say anything.”

Piller picked up golf at 15, and won a state title for Goddard High School. She went on to the University of Texas-El Paso, and won a handful of college tournaments.

She tried qualifying for the LPGA Tour for three consecutive years after turning professional in 2007, but failed.

Before her recent run of success, most golf fans know her as one of the contestants on the Golf Channel’s reality show “Big Break: Prince Edward Island,” where she reached the final four in 2009.

Piller has been a mainstay on the LPGA Tour since 2011, but had not really challenged for tournament titles until the past two years.

Now, she is knocking on the door of her first victory.

“She’s always putting her name up there with the leaders,” Ko said. “Gerina is coming. She’s such a great player.”

On the verge of possibly becoming the next great U.S. star, Piller said she doesn’t regret taking as long as she has to reach this stage.

“I do feel like winning is definitely close,” Piller said. “My game is good enough, and it’s just a matter of time when the pieces fit all together and it just comes together.”

DRIVERLESS

Ariya Jutanugarn is the only golfer in the field who has not hit a driver this week — which is a big deal considering how rain soaked 6,600-yard Sahalee has been.

In fact, she has hit more 2-iron tee shots than anything — reaching distances close to 250 yards. It’s a club that her caddie, Les Luark, introduced to her last year when she struggled hitting a driver.

“I can hit it as hard as I want to hit it,” Jutanugarn said.

And she knows not everybody can hit a 2-iron flush — even her sister, Moriya, who also plays on the LPGA Tour.

“I let my sister hit it,” Ariya Jutanugarn said. “But she said doesn’t want to hit it (anymore).”

CHIP SHOT

Bethel High School graduate Sadena Parks, who made the cut on the nose Friday, shot a 6-over 77 in the third round. She goes off in the second group out Sunday at 8:05 a.m.

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