Rejuvenated Paula Creamer starting over on and off course

EVIAN-LES-BAINS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 14: Paula Creamer of USA looks on during the first round of The Evian Championship at Evian Resort Golf Club on September 14, 2017 in Evian-les-Bains, France. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images) Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Rejuvenated Paula Creamer starting over on and off course

LPGA Tour

Rejuvenated Paula Creamer starting over on and off course

 

Paula Creamer feels like a caged-up fighter who’s ready to rumble.

Stronger than ever and hungry for competition, the 31-year-old heads to the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix on Sunday for her first start on the LPGA in six months. 

“I didn’t think I could be this patient,” she said.

This won’t be a pick-up-where-you-left-off kind of return for Creamer, nor a turning of the proverbial page. It feels more like she flipped the book upside and down and started a new script.

“It’s like a whole new Paula is coming back,” said Creamer, who underwent season-ending wrist surgery last October after withdrawing from the Evian Championship.

Creamer exploded onto the LPGA scene in 2005, winning the Sybase Classic before she even graduated from high school. She grew up fast, a pretty-in-pink idol for countless young girls around the country, a major winner and a sponsorship magnet. 

Creamer stuck to what worked for a long time. She remained with the same coach, caddie and agent for more than a decade and kept a strong nucleus with parents, Paul and Karen. The first major change to her team came in December of 2014 when she married Derek Heath, an Air Force pilot and family friend.

These days the changes are sweeping. New coach, new swing, new workout regimen, new ball, new clubs. And the changes aren’t just work-related. Creamer confirmed that after three years of marriage, she and Heath have parted ways.

“We’re no longer together,” she said, insisting that the rest remain a “private matter.”

It’s understandable that a player who grew up on a worldwide stage would want to turn away the spotlight from her personal life. Instead she wants to focus on what’s next, noting in a strong and convincing tone that she’s in a good place both mentally and physically.

Longtime agent Jay Burton said that in the 14 years he has worked with Creamer, he has never seen her more eager to get to the first tee.

Once there, fans will notice a more muscular Creamer cranking drives 15 yards farther. She’s a club longer with her irons, too.

“I’m learning that I have actual power,” she said.

Creamer worked with instructor David Whelan for 15 years before switching to Gary Gilchrist in December of 2015. Now she’s with Scotland-based Kevin Craggs, whose clients include Colin Montgomerie, Catriona Matthew and Mel Reid. 

They’re in the midst of a complete rebuild of Creamer’s swing. She calls it a “night and day” difference and believes a full commitment to Craggs’ plan will lead her back to the winner’s circle.

Only two clubs in her bag haven’t changed – her trusty TaylorMade R7 7-wood and Odyssey 2-Ball putter. She switched to the TaylorMade TP5 golf ball, significant given that she’d been with Bridgestone since 2006.

Last year Creamer tried something unusual in that she went back and forth between two caddies throughout the season. In 2018, veteran looper David Brooker will have the job alone.

Injuries have now plagued Creamer for several chunks of her career. She won the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open in her fourth start after a four-month break due to an injured thumb.

She’s wiser about practice now, stopping immediately when she feels pain. Before she’d press on to hit a few more balls, ultimately paying the price. Last week she stepped in the practice bunker for the first time and honed in on feel shots.

“Our body is our job,” said Creamer, “and when our body can’t do what we want it to do, it makes life so much more difficult. There are nights when you can’t sleep, because it’s all you think about.”

At a time when Americans are surging on the LPGA, a rejuvenated, recommitted Creamer looks to get back in the conversation. She takes inspiration wherever she can find it, whether it’s the comeback story of former neighbor, Tiger Woods, or her father’s swift recovery from double hip replacement.

Success may have come early for Creamer, but she lived for the fight. She identified with grit.

That part of her story can never change.

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