A Profession Built on Putts

On the LPGA Tour at 25, Katherine Perry hopes to make
the game of golf her career. 

By Kurt Dusterberg
Photos courtesy of Katherine Perry

Katherine Perry copy.jpg

Katherine Perry is living the life she imagined. After years as a standout in junior golf and at UNC–Chapel Hill, the former Cary resident spent two years trying to qualify for the LPGA Tour before earning her membership in the fall of 2016. In her first full season in 2017, she showed flashes of a game that could lead to a long professional career. But in an individual sport, there are no guarantees. Success is measured in prize money, which determines who stays on the tour and who looks for another line of work.

It’s a lot to consider for a 25-year-old, and Perry takes stock of the situation every day. Some weeks she earns a paycheck, others she misses the cut. But through all the ups and downs, she makes the most of her dream.

Cary Living: You spent two years on the Symetra Tour, essentially the minor league for the LPGA Tour. How was
that experience?

Katherine Perry: You drive everywhere because you’re trying to keep the costs down, and that part was really fun. The part that’s tough is being away from home so much, and the finances. Your ability to make money is super-low. The winner would get $15,000. Week-to-week, you just try to make enough to cover your expenses. You’re not supposed to stay out there a long time. You’re supposed to move up to the LPGA or figure out something else.

You’ve said that had you not made it through the 2016 LPGA Qualifying Tournament, you were completely ready to walk away from pro golf.

If I did not make it to the LPGA, I was going to be done. I’ve never really been depressed in my life, I don’t think, except for missing my husband and my parents and even my little dog. Not making it financially at the same time, trying to plan down the road: Where am I going to be at 26, 28, 30? When do I want to have kids? You wonder what your purpose in life is. Are you supposed to be playing golf? What are you doing? Are you changing anything at all with the world, helping people?

Speaking of your husband, Kevin, you met him when you were in high school and he was working at Lochmere Golf Club.

Yes. He always knew how focused I was on golf and always supported my golf. That’s been huge for me, being comfortable playing and not feeling bad about it. His parents and my parents have been completely supportive of the dream.

And he is your caddie on tour, right?

That’s what makes it so much fun, not feeling lonely and sad all the time. Doing it together and traveling to all these cool places that we never would have been. It’s like a honeymoon each week, getting to go to different places—and
call it work.

If you hadn’t qualified for the tour, did you have an idea what you would have done next?

I’ve talked about being a teacher since I was a kid. I would have to go back to school for that, so I don’t know if that’s what it would be. It probably wouldn’t involve golf, but who knows? The one thing I’ve known for sure is that I want to be a mom someday. That would be in the cards at some point.

What have you noticed about the level of talent you are playing against? Do you feel intimidated or do you think you can measure up?

I sometimes feel intimidated. When you play with a better player that you’ve watched on TV all these years, you question it a little bit. But it’s really important that you push that down and focus on your own game and mechanics. I got out there for a reason, so I must be good enough, right? (Laughing). The difference from Symetra to LPGA is that it’s a little more refined. There are a little bit better putting statistics from six to 15 feet, or hitting one or two more greens per round. The mental game is a lot better on the LPGA Tour. There’s a lot more confidence and ability to let go of previous shots.

Your best finish in 2017 was a tie for 15th. Did that validate you a little bit, to prove you could finish near the top of the leaderboard?

It’s interesting. When you play really well, it feels effortless, like you didn’t even have to try. But when you’re playing poorly, you’re trying so hard to get to even-par. It’s a weird game that way.

You made $66,521 as a rookie. That sounds like a good rookie season, but you’ll need to earn more than that in 2018 to keep your full status. That seems like a lot of pressure.

That’s a huge thing for me—that when I’m on the course, I have to block out that I have to pay the mortgage and the bills and flights and hotels—and not let it overwhelm me. It is expensive. We made $66,000, but since Kevin’s caddying for me we don’t have another source of income. We don’t have sponsors paying for flights and hotels. You pay for everything on your own.

You’ve always been a big fan of Julie Inkster, who is a hall of fame player, and she’s still playing the tour. Have you struck up a friendship with her now?

No, no. (Again, she laughs). I’m terrified to talk to her. I just think she’s awesome with what she’s done with golf and how she’s been a mom. I’m a super-shy person. Initiating a conversation for me is tough. Every time I’ve talked to her, she’s been very kind. So she hasn’t ruined that image for me!

How much time do you spend at home?

We live in Durham now. It’s just 100 feet from Chapel Hill, so we’re close to the good land! All my family is here, so I love that. My parents are in Cary still. It’s a great area. We’re three weeks on tour, one week home. When we get home, we’re pretty excited about staying put for a little bit.

Do you ever think about winning a tournament? A $300,000 payday would be a life changer.

I do fantasize about it. I’ve had an occasional dream where I win a tournament. That’s definitely the goal. I need to sharpen up the game a little bit. It’s just about making putts. 

 

 “when you play really well, it feels effortless.”

“when you play really well, it feels effortless.”