Paula Creamer came to the ShopRite LPGA Classic a year ago wondering whether her surgically repaired left thumb would hold up for three days of play.
Her outlook on golf is much different these days, and it starts when she walks into her kitchen in Orlando.
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2011 SHOPRITE CLASSIC
The ShopRite Classic was a staple on the LPGA Tour from 1986 to 2006, and returned to the schedule in 2010.
Sitting on the table and serving as its centerpiece is the U.S. Women's Open trophy, comemorating the major that Creamer won shortly after returning to the LPGA Tour.
Creamer isn't satisfied with that or her current No. 11 ranking in women's golf. She wants to be up there with No. 1 ranked Yani Tseng, No. 2 Suzann Pettersen, No. 3 Jiyai Shin and No. 4 Cristie Kerr, the top-ranked American.
"I want to be a part of it," Creamer said Thursday on the eve of this year's $1.5 million ShopRite Classic at the Seaview Resort just outside of Atlantic City. "It's tough right now, and I'm not quite in that mix yet. I don't know what I am in the rankings, but I want to be higher without a doubt. I want to be No. 1 American, and I want to be the No. 1 player in the world, but that's not going to change overnight. I know that it's going to take some time."
Like many players on the LPGA Tour, Creamer has had difficulty finding her game this year with the lack tournaments. The ShopRite is only the eighth official tour event and the second consecutive one in New Jersey.
The Sybase Match Play Championship was held in late May and then players had a week off with some playing in an unofficial event in Brazil.
Creamer, who has been working on swing changes this season, played well at Sybase, finishing tied for fifth. She lost in the quarterfinals to Kerr, who finished runner-up to Pettersen.
"I'm just trying to get it back, trying to get in contention on Sundays," said Creamer, who will turn 25 in August. "I miss it. I miss being in the winner's circle."
Creamer has nine wins on the LPGA Tour and two others on Japan's LPGA Tour. Her only win since 2008 came last year when she captured her first major in winning the U.S. Women's Open at Oakmont.
"I feel like I matured so much as a golfer and a person that week," Creamer said. "It was the hardest golf course I ever played and the fact that I won by four there shows that I can play, I can be out there, I can be the best player, and it motivates me more and more."
Creamer is excited coming back to ShopRite this year. She nearly wrote a storybook return last year after a three-month layoff. She was within a shot of the lead after two rounds before fading to seventh in the tournament won by Ai Miyazato.
The seaside Bay Course has been lengthened slightly and made tougher with fescue being put around the bunkers. And when the wind is blowing like it did on Wednesday and Thursday, the course will play even tougher.
"This golf course needs to play harder," Creamer said. "But it shows that not necessarily adding tons of length everywhere makes the golf course harder. Bringing the fairways in and changing the style of it is actually going to be a good thing. Length isn't everything."
Miyazato added even the grass seems thicker this year, so scores won't be as low.
"I love this golf course because I enjoyed it so much every time that I'm playing over here," said Miyazato, ranked No. 7. "It's because it doesn't just favor the long hitters. But this is a course that favors the long hitters and short hitters, and course management comes into play a lot."
The tournament lost one of its top attractions on Wednesday when Pettersen withdrew because of a lingering battle with the flu.
Tseng also is a question mark. She only played nine holes in Wednesday's pro-am because her shoulder hurt. However, she was hitting ball on Thursday and is expected to play.