GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - Cristie Kerr knows first-hand the stress and trauma that veterans face.
The LPGA standout shared a hotel room with her father, Michael, as a junior golfer. She would lie awake at night and listen as he relived his Vietnam experience.
Michael served in the infrantry in Vietnam from 1966-67. He was in a company of 250 soldiers - Kerr said 50 or 60 of them died her father's first year.
"He'd be sleeping and dreaming and yelling out orders to people," Kerr said Wednesday during an informal conversation with reporters two days before the start of the ShopRite LPGA Classic. "He'd say, 'Cover, get this, take cover.' (Or), 'Man that gun over there or whatever.' And he would never remember it when he woke up. You don't realize how traumatic it is."
Kerr, the top-ranked American female golfer in the world, never forgot the sacrifice her father and other veterans made.
She sponsored a Memorial Day outing this past Monday at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City that raised $15,000 for the Wall Street Warfighters Foundation, a nonprofit organization that trains injured veterans to get jobs on Wall Street.
Her father attended but could not play because he just underwent knee-replacement surgery.
But 50 servicemen and women did play, and Kerr played a hole with each of the foursomes.
One veteran said hitting a tee shot in front of Kerr was more stressful than getting shot at in Afghanistan.
"I said, 'There's no way. I don't believe you,' " Kerr said with a laugh.
Kerr, 34, is one of the players to watch when the $1.5 million ShopRite LPGA Classic begins Friday on the Bay Course at Seaview Resort. Kerr won the Classic in 2004.
She balances her golf game with her charity work.
Kerr founded the Birdies for Breast Cancer charity shortly after her mother, Linda, was diagnosed with the disease in 2004. The Cristie Kerr Women's Health Center in Jersey City opened in 2010. She also started Curvature Wines, whose profits are donated to breast-cancer charities.
"It's OK to be successful as long as you give back," Kerr said, "and I guess the more I've gotten older, the more I've really appreciated that and understood that, and that's kind of what I want to do. I just think that I want to be remembered in a good light. I want to be remembered for helping people."
Kerr is one of the most successful American golfers ever on the LPGA Tour. She made her professional debut at the age of 18 in 1996. Kerr was ranked No. 1 in the world three times in 2010. With more than $13 million in career earnings, she has won more than any other American on the tour.
Kerr has won 14 events but none since June 2010.
She said her game is good and that she's made a change this week that will help revitalize it. Caddie Worth Blackwelder is back on her bag.
Blackwelder caddied for Kerr earlier in her career. He was her caddie when she won the 2004 Classic.
The caddie is important to Kerr because although the ultimate responsibility for the shot is hers, she likes to be a part of a team.
"He's really easygoing and he keeps me peaceful and he's really supportive," Kerr said. "He's just a good caddie, so I'm comfortable and feel like I'm going to be ready to go for the rest of the year now."
Contact Michael McGarry: