'Re-boot' over, Creamer pines for second USWO title

Paula Creamer during her practice round on Wednesday at Pinehurst No. 2, the site of the 2014 U.S. Women's Open.

PINEHURST, N.C. – Paula Creamer’s penchant for pink led Casey Wittenberg, her former classmate at the David Leadbetter Academy and now a Web.com Tour pro, to label her the “Pink Panther” when she was 14.

Four days before her high school graduation in 2005, Creamer won the first of her 10 LPGA Tour titles at the Sybase Classic. For the past decade, she has been America’s sweetheart of the golf links. Now she is engaged, and making her 12th U.S. Women’s Open start at a championship where she has experienced heartbreak, sorrow, and the pure bliss of victory.

“It’s crazy,” said Creamer, the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open champion. “I’m 27 years old and I’m a veteran. Holy cow!”

It’s just as crazy to think that Creamer had failed to win on the LPGA in nearly four years until she won the HSBC Women’s Championship earlier this season. It’s hard to pinpoint one reason for the dry spell, but Creamer is quick to cite her thumb injury that limited her to 14 events in 2010 and took longer to heal than she ever imagined.

“The doctors told me it would take a long time, but being an athlete and being stubborn I said, ‘Right, that’s not going to happen to me,’ ” Creamer said.

The injury now is behind her. So is the process of what she called “re-booting” her game. Last year, Creamer re-tooled her swing with her longtime instructor David Whelan in an effort to reach new heights.

“You have to go backwards sometimes to go forwards,” she said. “It’s all coming together. I can figure it out. I can feel it.”

Which is encouraging news as she prepares for what is certain to be the toughest tests of the year in women’s golf. Creamer played Pinehurst No. 2 twice the week before the U.S. Open. This week, she played it from the maximum distance of 6,649 yards. She said she expects it to play longer for the women than the men and that her hybrids and 5-wood will get a good workout. Still, she spent the bulk of her time prepping her short game and learning to judge the speed of Pinehurst’s turtleback greens.

“I think the best lag putter will win,” she said.

In a field where everyone looks talented and many sound supremely confident, why does Creamer feel optimistic that she may taste victory this week? When asked of what course Pinehurst reminds her, she answered without hesitation.

“Oakmont,” she said.

As in that world-class layout with sloping greens like a camel ride. As in the torture chamber where Creamer didn't think the women would be able to handle the golf course if it played fast and firm. As in the the place where it poured, turning into a completely different track, allowing her to win her lone U.S. Women’s Open title. Perhaps at Pinehurst, the Pink Panther will ride off with the trophy again.

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