Paula Creamer is greeted by a comforting sight every time she walks into her kitchen: the U.S. Women’s Open trophy. It reminds her of her first major win and the biggest highlight from a tough year.
Now, Creamer and her still-healing thumb are ready to play in the $1.3 million Navistar LPGA Classic for the first time, starting Thursday at the 6,607-yard, par-72 Senator Course on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Capitol Hill.
Creamer was sidelined four months after reconstructive surgery on her left thumb Mar. 30 -- coincidentally an hour away in Birmingham -- and still sports a bandage as a constant reminder.
The trophy sitting in her home is a more pleasant reminder -- of July’s four-stroke U.S. Open win at Oakmont that eased the burden of a top player seeking her first win at a major.
“I can walk into my house and see the U.S. Open trophy on my kitchen table,” Creamer, who has nine LPGA Tour wins and has played on three winning Solheim Cup teams, said Wednesday. “It’s kind of nice, it’s different. I’ve never been a trophy person, but that one’s beautiful. I can look at it all day.”
She’s coming off a five-week break that included several weeks off the course, skipping the Northwest Arkansas Championship nearly a month ago. Her best finish since the U.S. Open was a tie for 15th at the Canadian Women’s Open.
“As long as I give myself a chance on Sunday, that’s all I can really ask for,” Creamer said. “Coming down the stretch, the last nine holes, if I’m in contention I will be happy. It’s been a difficult year. But we’ve got a couple of more events left that I can fight through and 2010 will be done with.”
It’s her first time playing in the Navistar Classic in suburban Montgomery, but one aspect of the course caught her attention quickly.
“The greens are huge, probably the biggest greens I’ve ever played besides somewhere in the British Open,” Creamer said. “It’s a good track. They don’t look as pretty right now, but they’re rolling pretty nicely, quick. It always comes down to putting the ball in the right place. You can’t have 45-footers all over.”
The Classic field includes half of the top 10-ranked players, led by No. 1 Ai Miyazato and No. 3 Cristie Kerr, who missed Wednesday’s pro-am.
Michelle Wie and No. 2 Yani Tseng are among those sitting out the first of six consecutive events. Tseng took her third win of the year in Arkansas with a one-stroke victory over Wie. She had matched the Navistar Classic’s tournament record by shooting 63 in the second round last year.
Fifteen-year-old Alexis Thompson returns after sharing the second-round lead a year ago and finishing tied for 27th. Her best LPGA Tour finish was a second-place tie at the Evian Masters. The Navistar Classic is her last exemption of the year.
The event is assured of a new winner because Lorena Ochoa, who retired in May, won on the last two trips to Prattville. In-Kyung Kim comes in as one of the hottest players, with seven top-10s in the last eight tournaments, while Miyazato is seeking her sixth victory of the year.
“Right now, it’s a little bit tough to control myself as situations are constantly changing,” Miyazato said. “The top 5 players are very close and in contention all the time.”