Paula Creamer still plays with a bandage. What she no longer plays with is a burden.
Even though Creamer won’t turn 24 until a week from Thursday, after she returns from Royal Birkdale and the final Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour major of the year, few other players so young have received so much scrutiny for failing to win a major.
At least that’s one question she won’t face this week at the Women’s British Open. “No, I’m sure it will be, ‘Do you want to win two in a row?’” Creamer says with an easy laugh just four days after her US Women’s Open victory at Oakmont.
“I feel like my whole career, it’s always been about majors,” she says. “That was the one thing I didn’t have. Now that I do, I only want more. It’s like opening a can of worms. I can’t wait to play the British Open, because I know what it takes to win.”
Creamer endured some tough lessons along the way. She was thrice poised to win the US Open, the biggest stage in her sport, only to fall apart with bad swings or a bad decision. But she learnt, just as Lorena Ochoa did before her.
On what is reputed to be the hardest golf course in America, with her left thumb bandaged from reconstructive surgery that kept her out for four months, Creamer stuck to a conservative plan. She never buckled until she had a four-shot victory at Oakmont.
Swing when you win: Paula Creamer won the 2010 US Women’s Open. Reuters
That gives Creamer nine victories and a major. She has played on three winning Solheim Cup teams, losing only twice in 14 matches. That’s not a bad record for someone still only 23.
By her own admission, however, Creamer is an “old 23”.
She won her first LPGA Tour event a week before going through high school graduation, and off the course, she is one of the most marketable players on the LPGA Tour. Creamer has had to learn how to fit in with business executives at corporate outings.
“I think I am older than my age,” she says. “I had to grow up pretty fast. There are times when I’m a young 23, but on the golf course I’ve definitely matured much faster than my age. But there’s still so much I have to learn.”
Greatness in women’s golf doesn’t wait long.
Annika Sorenstam won the first of her 10 majors in her second year on tour. Se Ri Pak won two majors as a rookie. Karrie Webb won her first major in her fourth season on the LPGA Tour, and then she had the career Grand Slam two years later.
Creamer is only 23, but this is her sixth year on tour. She risked getting left behind, especially with a thumb injury that caused her to wonder if her career was over much earlier than she had planned. That’s why it was important to get that first major.
Equally important is where she goes from here. Creamer is No. 7 in the women’s world ranking, although No. 1 has never been so close.
“Right now, it’s going to be a battle,” Creamer says. “It’s going to take a while for one person to dominate. We’ve got eight players, 10 players who can win every week. We’ve never had that strength. But somebody has to push a little.”
Creamer has talked about being No. 1 since she was a teenager and finished second to Sorenstam on the money list as a rookie. That seems like a long time ago. She needs to be a young 23.
“One person is going to have to branch out of that group and work harder than anybody,” Creamer says. “I want to be that person.”
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