Creamer has matured into a champion
Before hopping into her black Range Rover to head to a photo shoot, Paula Creamer took out the trash. She also laid out the ingredients for that night’s dinner (maple-braised pork chops) on the kitchen counter. The woman who grew up in a pink cocoon — coddled by loving parents, an entourage of supporters and fans from around the globe — even cleaned up after her rescue puppy, Tank, who chewed her patio furniture, but thankfully, not her Christian Louboutins.
“I never went to college, so my parents and I never had that separation,” said Creamer, a nine-time winner on the LPGA who purchased her nearly 4,000-square-foot home in the upscale Isleworth community two years ago. “It was time for me to grow up, do things a normal person has to end up doing.”
Creamer, 24, could step out onto her back patio, tee up a ball and hit the roof of her parents’ villa. But that’s not the point. She needed space. And while most 24-year-olds find that in an apartment filled by roommates and hand-me-down furniture, Creamer’s talent affords her upscale, “matchy-matchy” taste in a neighborhood of all-stars. As the only LPGA player who lives in Isleworth, Creamer gets teased about her pink golf balls. (“I don’t take it as well as I give it.”)
The California-born Creamer adores Isleworth because it doesn’t feel like Florida: “You never have to leave the bubble,” she said.
Sidelined last year by an injured left thumb, Creamer spent more time in the idyllic bubble than anyone had planned.
She re-evaluated what’s important, examined her work attitude and tried to live a normal life (normal, at least, for a twentysomething multimillionaire). When the pink cast came off, a more mature Creamer emerged, mentally healthy and, now, physically stronger.
Fourteen weeks later, she won her first major championship, the U.S. Women’s Open at storied Oakmont Country Club.
“I would like to say it would’ve happened anyway, even if I didn’t have to sit at home,” Creamer said. “Who knows? This is what happened, and it made me mature.”
Creamer enters 2011 with specific goals: become the No. 1 American; defend her U.S. Women’s Open title; triumph at the Solheim Cup; and win multiple times. She hasn’t won more than once in a season since 2008.
Juli Inkster, Creamer’s role model and good friend, observed a good balance from Creamer during the season-opening Asian swing, as she mingled more with a variety of people in the evening hours. Creamer’s mother, Karen, traveled with her to Thailand, but Paula was on her own in Singapore.
“I think this year is the most relaxed I’ve ever seen her,” said Inkster, who knows one of the keys to longevity on tour is having fun with friends.
Good health, of course, is another, and though the 50-year-old Inkster never struggled with injury, Creamer’s headlines during the past several years mostly centered around a mysterious stomach ailment she picked up in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the thumb injury that caused her to leave the season-opening event in Thailand last year in tears. She feared the worst: No more golf.
“That was the low point,” said Jay Burton, Creamer’s longtime agent at IMG.
Reconstructive thumb surgery led to a three-month break. She returned at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June, and three weeks later, shed the best-player-never-to-have-won-a-major label at Oakmont.
“Maybe looking back 10 years from now,” Inkster said, “she might say the injury was the best thing that ever happened to (her).”
A healthy offseason led to diligent work on her body with trainer Chuck Wolf and swing changes with longtime coach David Whelan. Creamer arrived in Asia with a stronger, faster swing that resulted in an extra 15 yards off the tee. She’s a club longer with her irons. Her biggest area of concern is consistency — putting together four solid rounds each week.
Whelan worked on getting Creamer’s grip back in the right place. Swelling in her left thumb had made it difficult to get her right hand on top of her left. Whelan said that strong right grip caused her to be flat and narrow at the top.
“The look now is more on plane at the start, better set to the wrists, wider at the top and a better change of direction from backswing to downswing,” Whelan wrote in an email. “She’s more grounded with her feet through impact.”
Whelan looks at the U.S. Women’s Open victory as a great lesson in how to stay patient. That self-confidence, Whelan believes, along with better management of the par 5s and her emotions, will “help her get to World No. 1.”
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