Tickled Pink: Creamer's life in a happy place

Paula Creamer finds herself happy on and off the course, getting engaged to Derek Heath and winning her first tournament since 2010.

PHOENIX – Paula Creamer forced Derek Heath to produce his driver’s license on their first date. The Air Force pilot claimed to have been born on the Fourth of July and Creamer, America’s Solheim sweetheart, wanted proof.

“My father was born on Veterans Day,” Heath later added.

This was starting to get a little crazy.

“We found out we were born in the same hospital (in Mountain View, Calif.),” Creamer said at the JTBC Founders Cup of her fiance. If the LPGA had a “bliss” category, Creamer might rank No. 1.

“She has never been radiant like she is with Derek,” said Jay Burton, Creamer’s only agent.

All this happy talk helps explain that recent breakthrough victory in Singapore, the stunning 75-foot eagle putt that ended a near four-year title drought. The stars are starting to align for Creamer, 27, who is in her 10th year on tour. She enters this week’s Kraft Nabisco Championship, the season’s first major, with a full heart, strong body and renewed focus.

“Golf is going to feel like a section of her life,” said Creamer’s father, Paul. “It used to totally consume it.”

There’s precedence for love to lead to major championships. Inbee Park, who brought her fiance/instructor on the road, turned into a money-making machine, winning last year’s first three majors.

In eight professional starts at the Kraft, Creamer never has finished outside the top 24. But she also never has cracked the top 10, finishing a career-best T-13 last year at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Consistently good, but nothing truly great.

“The pressure that I’ve put on (Kraft) is always very high,” Creamer said. “My grandmother passed away on Easter Sunday (last year), and my mind was in different directions. That’s probably why, in hindsight, I had my best finish.”

Creamer won her first LPGA tournament in 2005, four days before graduating from high school. She has transitioned from girl to woman on tour, traveling with her parents for the first half of her career. Once she could rent a car on her own, Creamer started to branch out solo.

Still, as an only child, Creamer always knew that whoever came into her life would have to be truly special. More importantly, he’d have to earn Paul’s blessing.

Paul Creamer met Clark Heath in 1976 at Moffett Field in Hangar No. 2. For 10-15 years, the naval aviators saw each other every day in Sunnyvale, Calif. They moved from active duty to the reserves together and later worked as commercial pilots, Paul for American Airlines and Clark for Continental.

When Paula – who since debuting as a rookie at the 2005 Solheim Cup has been the face of Team USA – expressed a desire several years ago to attend all four military balls, Paul thought of Clark’s oldest son, Derek. The timing didn’t work out back then, but Derek came out to the first round of the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, Calif., last year to see what this pro golfer was all about.

“I’d seen her in Christmas cards for a while,” Heath said.

The two families had dinner that night at Bistro West. Heath, now 33 and a major in the Air Force Reserve, got her number, texted and then canceled a trip to Afghanistan to meet her again for two days at the Kraft.

“Half of the battle with my life and her life is people don’t understand what we do day to day and how we think,” Heath said. “Straight out of the gates, we’re on the same wavelength . . . like we knew each other for years.”

Six weeks later, he flew from his home in Newport Beach, Calif., to Orlando, Fla., to take her on their first date.

Heath, an Air Force Academy graduate, played college golf in 2000-01 and spent 10 years on active duty. He started his career flying presidential support for George W. Bush, rolling up the entourage of limos and Tahoes into a C-17, flying ahead and then rolling them off to receive the collection of VIPs.

Last fall, Heath was asked to fly with President Barack Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton and Bush to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa but declined because he already was scheduled to be in Taiwan with Creamer.

“I have my priorities,” he said.

Now Heath spends a lot of time flying wounded service members home from Afghanistan. One time Creamer flew home from a tournament in Asia at the same time Heath returned from the Middle East. They met at Los Angeles International Airport, flying across the globe to connect.

Catching up for a 30-minute phone call sometimes means setting an alarm for 2 a.m. When they’re on opposite sides of the world, emails are sent by whoever is awake. There’s always a plan in place for their next point of contact.

“If you’re not willing to do that,” Creamer said, “then you know it’s not ever going to work.”

The parallels between golf and flying are apparent, once Heath explains. There’s a lot of repetitious work and procedural practice that some could even say looks easy . . . until it’s not.

“You have moments of sheer terror when things go wrong,” Heath said, “and you have to react in a calm, collected and proficient manner – in our case to be safe, or in her case to perform.”

They have trained most of their lives for those moments, and they find inspiration in each other’s success.

“I don’t know pressure like what they do,” Creamer said. “Someone shooting at you is a little bit different than making a 5-footer.”

That didn’t stop Heath from experiencing some anxious moments in California in the wee hours of the morning March 2 as Creamer battled Azahara Munoz in extra holes in Singapore. When the putt dropped, Creamer ran and fell to her knees in a moment of unforgettable elation. Heath nearly jumped through the ceiling.

“I thought I was going to have to go to the emergency room; my heart was about to jump out of my chest,” he said.

Twenty hours later, Heath picked her up at the Los Angeles airport. Back home he’d strung a congratulatory sign, bought six dozen roses, strawberries and decorated the place in red and white balloons, the colors of tournament sponsor HSBC.

Success now for Creamer is that much sweeter.

Unlike with so many other players on tour, Creamer’s team hasn’t changed in the past 10 years. Her agent, swing coach, caddie and equipment sponsors are the same.

“I’m very into loyalty,” she said.

Heath knew that as the new variable in the equation, his presence – and the results that followed – wouldn’t go unnoticed. He sought Paul Creamer for advice about how to be the man in her life and motivate her at the same time.

For Paula, a self-described hopeless romantic, Heath’s presence brings a sense of security.

“I’m ready for (this) part of my life to be important,” she said. They have yet to reveal a wedding date.

With another one of life’s big boxes checked off and many questions about her future answered, Creamer can concentrate on the goals at hand: winning majors and playing in the 2016 Olympics, Heath said.

“Her team has been the same for so many years,” Heath said, “but if I can be a positive influence, that extra element to complete her personal life, then I think she’s at peace.”

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