Creamer's tearful goodbye to 'Pops'

Paula Creamer had a close relationship with her grandfather, who she called "Pops."

Paula Creamer had a close relationship with her grandfather, who she called "Pops."

CARLSBAD, Calif. - On the brink of his 90th birthday, Tom Creamer boarded a plane bound for Scotland. He sat on the balcony of the Old Course Hotel with a pair of binoculars and his hot pink “Pops” shirt and blew kisses to his granddaughter as she teed off on the second hole and walked down No. 17 at the 2007 Ricoh Women’s British Open. Creamer turned 21 that week in St. Andrews. It’s a week she’ll never forget.

Creamer is fortunate to have countless memories of the man she called her No. 1 fan. Tom Creamer, a Philadelphia native who served in World War II and worked as a boiler inspector, lived to see his “sweetheart” smile. He died March 19 at age 94 in Ithaca, N.Y. Creamer, playing across the country at the Kia LPGA Classic, called last week the toughest in her eight years on tour.

“I feel that I’m here today because of him,” she said.

Paul Creamer received a phone call from his father on Feb. 23 at 2:30 p.m. Tom complained of chest pains and asked his son to fly to New York from his home in Windermere, Fla. (Paula’s parents live around the corner from her in Isleworth.) Paul told him to hang up and dial 911. When he called back 10 minutes later, Tom was nowhere to be found. Paul packed a bag and headed to the airport.

Later that evening at the emergency room in Ithaca, Paul asked his dad how he made it to the hospital from his apartment at an assisted-living facility.

“I took the bus,” Tom replied. Someone else might need that ambulance more, he reasoned.

“That’s pretty classic Dad,” Paul said.

Paula Creamer withdrew from the event in Singapore and rushed to New York to spend the next four days by her grandfather’s bedside. Their relationship was especially close because Tom and his wife, Ruth, moved to California to watch Paula grow up. They even decorated their guest room identically to Paula’s bedroom so that she’d feel at home – right down to the same bed. Skip-Bo and Pac-Man on the Sega Genesis were sources of great fun and competition for the threesome.

Paul Creamer estimates his parents taught 8,000-10,000 kids how to swim. They had Paula jumping off the blocks at age 4, her grandfather cheering for every lap. Not surprisingly, Tom always referred to Paula’s golf tournaments as “meets.”

Tom Creamer was a staple at the Corning Classic and the Wegmans LPGA Championship, holding court on the balconies of each New York club.

“He would live that whole day just to give her a wave,” Paul said.

At the last staging of the Corning Classic, in 2009, Creamer drained a bomb on the 18th hole to take the clubhouse lead. The putt was tracking right at Pops, who was sitting at the front of the railing. He threw his hands into the air and flashed a big smile when the putt dropped. Paula looked up and blew him a kiss.

“All I wanted to do was win one more time in front of him, and I didn’t get to do that,” said Paula, fighting back tears at La Costa. “I know that the next win will be a big one.”

Looking back, the Creamer family is especially grateful for three weeks that they spent with Pops in Windermere in January, a period of time that grows more precious with each passing day. Tom sat in the cart with Paula as she worked on wedges at Isleworth, his eyes glued to the range finder.

Computers served only two purposes for Tom: email and live scoring. He would stay up all hours of the night watching Paula’s scores on the computer, impatiently hitting the refresh button. In his emails, he referred to her birdies as “tweet tweets” and her eagles as “squawks.” Paula has saved all his notes.

Tom Creamer understood the meaning of hardship. His house in Philly burned to the ground the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. When he went on a short leave during the war for the birth of his son, he came back to find out that the Germans had sunk his ship. His friends were gone. Even worse, he buried two sons.

Pops was a part of what Tom Brokaw coined “The Greatest Generation,” and Paula knows she was lucky to have her life shaped by such a man. Paul Creamer sees his father’s toughness in his only child.

From age 5 until the last time Paula saw her grandfather, they had a special way to say goodbye. She can’t explain the exchange, but it was theirs alone. And, like many little things, it will be missed.

Love you, pops.

Drink poya; it’s good for you.

Y is a crooked letter.

Don’t let the bed bugs bite.

Love you.

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