2005: Paula Creamer - Ready for the big dance

At age 12, Paula Creamer faced what ultimately would be a life-altering decision. • The dilemma seems silly today, but six years ago in Pleasanton, Calif., Creamer had to choose between cheerleading and golf. Both activities were held at similar times, and she had time for only one. Creamer already had been involved in baseball, soccer and various forms of dance, but had only dabbled in golf.

That’s when Paul Creamer asked his daughter one simple question: “Do you want people to cheer for you or do you want to cheer for people?”

Paula’s response was quick and easy: “I want people to cheer for me.”

Thus, a prodigy was born.

“That’s when I knew maybe she found something that she really liked and was willing to work at it extra hard,” Paul Creamer said. “She was willing to practice golf in her free time – nothing else. There was a little extra passion for this game.”

Fast forward six years, and the 18-year-old Creamer (pronounced KREE-mer) is on the eve of her rookie LPGA season. But she doesn’t enter as a rookie, rather the rookie. And that’s just the way she likes it.

Creamer’s goal of making the U.S. Solheim Cup team – in a six-month window, when other players will have had two years to accumulate points – adds even more pressure, and may lead some to think she’s setting herself up for failure.

To add to the mix, when Creamer stepped up to the first tee at this week’s SBS Open at Turtle Bay, she sported a TaylorMade staff bag and a corporate logo, ADT Security Services, on the front of her hat. She also has signed a deal with the Royal Bank of Scotland to have the RBS logo on her left sleeve. Sponsorships like this are rare in women’s golf, especially for a rookie.

That Creamer is young, blonde, attractive, full of confidence and media friendly also may fuel jealousy from other players.

“I’m just trying to play golf,” Creamer says. “My goals are very high and I know that. For some people they may be unrealistic but, for me, that’s what I feel I can achieve. I wouldn’t say it all if I didn’t believe I could do it.

“I know I have the game to win. It may take a couple of tournaments, but in my mind I know I’m ready to win.”

That’s Creamer in a nutshell: a tell-it-like-it-is kind of girl. She thrives off the pressure of a difficult situation and is not afraid of a challenge.

When she says, “I want to win a couple of majors,” she’s talking about this season, not her career. “I’d be very pleased with that,” she says.

When asked why she bypassed college in favor of the pro ranks, Creamer says, “I want to be where I am right now. I’d rather be the No. 1 LPGA player instead of the No. 1 college player.”

There is no reason to believe that it won’t

happen eventually, most likely in the post-Annika Sorenstam era. But one gets the impression that Creamer is not willing to wait until Sorenstam retires to stake her claim as the best female golfer on the planet.

“Paula Creamer wants to beat everybody,” reigning U.S. Open champion Meg Mallon said. “She doesn’t care how old they are or what they have done.”

Creamer, if nothing else, already has proven she belongs on tour. The teen-ager earned the respect

of many LPGA veterans for the way she played

last year, when she accepted sponsor exemptions for five consecutive weeks so she could get a glimpse of tour life. In seven LPGA events, Creamer recorded five top 20s, contending at the ShopRite Classic (she tied for second) and tying for 13th at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“I think if she had putted well at the Open, she’d have won it,” said David Whelan, Creamer’s swing coach at the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton. “I counted that she missed 30 (putts) from 10 to 15 feet and still finished 13th. Her ball-striking was awesome that week.”

Odd that Whelan would select the U.S. Women’s Open as the event he believed Creamer should have won. At the ShopRite, Creamer missed a 15-footer for birdie on the final hole that would have sent her into a sudden-death playoff against Cristie Kerr. That’s the one Creamer believes she let slip away.

This year, however, Creamer must learn to close the deal, especially if she intends to earn a spot on Nancy Lopez’s Solheim Cup squad that will face Europe at Crooked Stick in September. With fortysomethings Mallon, Juli Inkster, Beth Daniel and Rosie Jones winding down their careers, and former American “can’t-miss kids” Kelli Kuehne and Beth Bauer struggling to find their games, the torch is there for Creamer to grab.

“I would love to be known as the next great American,” Creamer said. “I would love to be known as the great American. There’s nothing

like being known for your country.”

A team has been strategically prepared to help assure Creamer’s success. IMG will handle Creamer’s management. Whelan will continue to hone her swing. Colin Cann left Se Ri Pak to caddie for Creamer. And David Donatucci has worked feverishly with Creamer on strength and conditioning. Creamer’s mother, Karen, will travel with her daughter every week, and Paul will join them as often as his job allows. (He is a former Navy pilot who flies for American Airlines.)

“It’s exciting to have someone with so much potential who still wants to get better,” said Cann, who has caddied for Pak, Sorenstam and Grace Park. “I’ll do whatever it takes to help her play better.”

Says Whelan: “She never questions anything we ask her to do. You sit her down and say, ‘Paula, this is the way it is, this is the way it needs to be and this is how you’re going to get there,’ and she says, ‘OK,’ then goes off and does it. She’s not looking for easy ways out.”

Creamer’s short game must improve for her to become more consistent. She won many junior tournaments with a stellar touch around the greens, but she also ended her amateur career with four consecutive semifinal losses in U.S. Golf Association events – the 2003 and ’04 U.S. Girls’ Juniors and the ’03 and ’04 U.S. Women’s Amateurs. Her 6-and-4 loss to Amanda McCurdy at the Women’s Amateur in August haunted Creamer for awhile. She knew walking off the course that she would never play in the event again.

Shortly thereafter, Creamer announced that she would enter LPGA Q-School Creamer, LPGA Q-School as an amateur. Five days before the first stage, Creamer told her father she was switching putters, from a Scotty Cameron model that she used for five years to an Odyssey 2-Ball putter that she had practiced with to help with her alignment. Paul was stunned, but he need not have worried. His daughter breezed through the first stage, then made 26 birdies in 90 holes to win the Dec. 1-5 final stage by five strokes. She turned professional on the spot.

Creamer still hasn’t graduated from high school, although she has earned enough credits and plans to take part in The Pendleton School’s graduation ceremony in May if her schedule allows.

In many respects, she still is a normal teen-ager. On the course, Creamer wants to rip your heart out. Off it, she likes to have a good time, which in Creamer-speak means shopping for anything pink to add to a wardrobe that would make the Pink Panther jealous.

But, as all the attention surrounding her rookie season attests, there is much more to Paula Creamer than her pink outfits. She always has loved the hype, always lived up to it.

And to think, it all began when she selected putters over pom-poms. No one, not even the Creamers, could have imagined how well it would turn out.

“It got here a lot quicker than I thought it would,” Paul Creamer said. “But it’s time, and she’s ready.”

Even more important, she knows it.

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