MILWAUKEE -- Sherri Steinhauer left her cabin in upstate New York on Tuesday and headed for Palm Springs, Calif., to work on her golf game. She hadn't touched her clubs since April 4, three days after she missed the cut at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
She needed to clear her head after shooting 81-76 at Mission Hills Country Club. One week earlier, she shot 77-78 at the Kia Classic and the week before that she shot 75-80 at the RB Donnelly LPGA Founders Cup.
Those scores do not jibe with Steinhauer's talent. Yes, she is 48 and missed the entire 2009 season after undergoing surgery on both hips. But she's also an eight-time winner with more than $5.5 million in career earnings, good for 25th place on the LPGA Tour's all-time list.
She knows how to play.
But she's not playing like she knows how.
The good news is that her decline has nothing to do with advancing age or failing body parts.
"My health is great," she said. "My hips are great. I've had no problems with them. Physically, I feel fine."
Instead, she is still struggling emotionally more than four months after her mother, Nancie, died of pancreatic cancer. Steinhauer has worked hard on her game, but there is no quick fix for a broken heart.
"I had a real tough winter," she said. "Mom and I were really, really close. She was my best friend and so I've been having a tough time with it. I went out to California in January and put everything into my golf and went out and played, and I wasn't ready emotionally. I wasn't there."
Nancie Steinhauer was diagnosed with cancer Nov. 11 and died Dec. 16, three weeks after her 80th birthday. She was Sherri's biggest fan, her closest confidant, her rock.
"I came home Nov. 11 and I was with her the whole time," said Steinhauer, a Madison native and member of the Wisconsin State Golf Association Hall of Fame. "I was just so happy my job afforded me the time to be there.
"Every day I was with her and my dad and brothers. We're a very close, tight family. We all deal with losses; it's part of life. But it's been very difficult for our whole family."
Steinhauer went through months of grueling rehabilitation after her hip surgeries and attended the 2009 Solheim Cup as a spectator, where the U.S. team's stirring victory over Europe stoked her competitive fire.
She returned to the LPGA in 2010, played in 16 events, tied for 12th place at the Shoprite Classic and finished a respectable 69th on the money list with $101,025.
This year, however, she has yet to break 75 and doesn't know when, or even if, she'll be competitive again.
"I'd love to play great golf again but I have to realize I am getting up there and to play with these young kids, it's difficult," she said. "The place I'm at right now, I'm not there yet. I know I have it in me but I'm in a bit of a hole right now and I've got to pull myself out.
"I still want it, but it's really not up to me. It's going to work out the way it's going to work out. There's only so much I can do. Life pans out the way it pans out. But I'm by no means giving up. I don't have any give-up in me."
Steinhauer and Juli Inkster were named assistant captains for the 2011 U.S. Solheim Cup team by captain Rosie Jones. The biennial matches will be played Sept. 23-25 at Killeen Castle in County Meath, Ireland.
Steinhauer has a 6-3-4 record in four Solheim Cup appearances and is 2-0-2 in singles. She would like to play her way onto the team but realizes she faces long odds. She also has looked ahead to 2012, when the U.S. Women's Open will return to Blackwolf Run in Kohler.
"I would love to be there," she said. "I'm qualified for (the Women's Open) this year but I believe my exemption runs out so I have to finish in the top 70 on the money list or I have to qualify (in 2012)."
Steinhauer plans to play a limited schedule this year; she didn't travel overseas to play in the first two events in Asia and won't play in the final five in South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan and Mexico.
"I have very few tournaments and I have to take advantage of those to get up (high) on the money list," she said. "I didn't get off to a very good start, so I've got a lot of work ahead of me."
Though she has set some goals, she is prepared to accept whichever way her career goes. It's noteworthy that her most recent victory, at the 2007 State Farm Classic, also was her most recent top-10 finish.
"I've had a wonderful career and I'm not going to put pressure on myself," she said. "Whatever it is, it is. I worked hard at the beginning of the year and I didn't play well the first three events. I couldn't have prepared more and I don't know what that all means."
Grief has no timetable, and everyone handles it differently. Maybe Steinhauer will bounce back. And maybe she'll find that the motivation and desire she needs to compete against women half her age are gone.
"It takes a while to get through this and I'm not putting a time frame on it," she said. "People have to respect that. I realize it's been a long time since my mom died. I want to get through it, too. I'm trying."