Refreshed Paula Creamer focused on independence and returning to winner's circle

Paula Creamer Zhe Ji/Getty Images

Refreshed Paula Creamer focused on independence and returning to winner's circle

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Refreshed Paula Creamer focused on independence and returning to winner's circle

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Paula Creamer begins her 15th season on the LPGA with two tournaments in Australia followed by a sponsor exemption in Thailand. First order of business: Play her way into the ANA Inspiration.

“I like that pressure,” said Creamer on the eve of her departure. “I’ve always done well with that. You might say, ‘It’s OK if you don’t do it’ … well, no, it’s not OK.”

Year No. 15 has a bit of a rookie feel to it for Creamer. She played her way onto Nancy Lopez’s Solheim Cup team as a rookie in 2005. With only 10 points to her name as she begins 2019, the American juggernaut has a similar mountain to climb to reach Gleneagles in September.

Long term, Creamer wants to represent the United States in the 2020 Summer Olympics. To get there, she’ll need to claw her way up the Olympic Golf Rankings. The field in Tokyo will be 60 deep and include a maximum of four Americans. All four must be ranked inside the top 15. As it stands, only Lexi Thompson (fifth) and Jessica Korda (12th) would qualify.

Creamer, currently 171stin the Rolex Rankings, is ready to do as U.S. captain Juli Inkster taught her: Put on her hard hat and go to work.

“My mentality is not just wanting to have fun out there,” said Creamer. “It’s wanting to win.”

The goals are set. The enthusiasm and resolve come through loud and clear over the phone.

But there’s something else there too, and it sounds every bit as important as feeling physically healthy. It’s the sound of independence.

Swing coach Kevin Craggs has spent the past year working with Creamer, and “Why did I do that?” was a common question on the range. Craggs has worked to help Creamer better understand the golf swing they’ve rebuilt.

Strong iron play has long been a hallmark of Creamer’s success. As a prodigious American star, Creamer played one shot – a draw. Now she can shape the ball any way that she likes. She’s never been more in control.

“I think as a golf coach you must install good habits, create responsibility,” said Craggs, “but most of all, empower independence.”

Creamer, a 12-time winner worldwide, grew up in a golf academy and has had a dedicated team surround her every step of the way. Craggs sees a 32-year-old Creamer taking more control in all aspects.

“Before she asks the questions,” said Craggs, “try to work out the answers first. She’s going to take more control of how she thinks, what she does. It’s running through her whole life.”

Creamer, who hasn’t won on the LPGA in five years, calls the new approach refreshing. Rather than do what she’s always felt she should do, she now does what she wants.

Paula Creamer at the 2018 Buick LPGA Shanghai in October (VCG via Getty Images)

“I have so much more confidence in myself and the decisions that I’m making,” said Creamer. “I feel like I’m in control of my destiny.”

It’s a feeling Creamer said she hasn’t felt in quite some time. The same goes for her health. She’s elated about how good she feels, switching trainers to Justin Cobb for greater focus on the movement of her body rather than pure strength.

To help prevent further wrist injury, Craggs made changes to her grip to alleviate pressure, particularly in her left hand.

“It was a grip that was fighting itself in opposite directions,” said Craggs.

Once the fundamentals were in place and they’d created a swing that was repeatable, the focus shifted to what Craggs calls “painting shapes in the sky.” The more versatile Creamer remains aggressive, he said, but she’s also more efficient. Her practice time is shorter, yet more intense.

“She has Porsche power with Fiesta consumption,” Craggs said.

Creamer and Craggs knew it might take 18 months for the new swing to settle in. It’s difficult to make sweeping changes in season. Creamer has now had several months at home, injury-free, to make this new swing her own.

“I’ve been tested in so many ways,” she said. “I feel like I’m starting to overcome those.”

Craggs couldn’t be more confident in what’s ahead.

“You heard it here first,” he said. “She’s going to win this year.”Gwk

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