LPGA stalwart Paula Creamer determined to return to top of women's game

By Edgar Thompson
Published on

OCALA, Fla. -- Paula Creamer turns 30 this summer, a milestone that likely comes as a shock to fans of women's golf.

Not because Creamer is getting old, but rather because she is still so young.

"It feels like I've been around forever," she said.

Yet, Creamer hopes she just is getting started.

One of the game's stalwarts, Creamer could have given into an extended slump.

Instead, the Orlando resident is re-energized by a revamped swing and strong season-opening showing. Entering her 12th season on the LPGA Tour, Creamer hopes to produce a second act as spectacular as her arrival as a high school phenom in 2005.

"There's so much that I want to do with golf," she said at this weeks Coates Championship in Ocala. "I have a lot of goals I want to achieve. We'll see through the next several years."

Creamer has managed just one of her 10 wins on Tour since the 2010 U.S. Open. Ranked ninth with $11.54 million in career earnings, Creamer made a career-low $363,485 in 2015 and produced a career-low stroke average of 71.69.

Creamer needed a captain's pick from her idol Juli Inkster to make the Solhiem Cup team. Inkster then put Creamer out first on Friday's opening day and out last in Sunday's singles, where she responded with some of her best golf in some time.

"It felt like that was good old Paula back on the golf course," she recalled. "That light at the end of the tunnel definitely was there."

An offseason switch to coach Gary Gilchrist proved to be another step back from the abyss.

Creamer closed with a final-round 66 to tie for fifth at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic -- her highest finish since last May. In the process, she hit 17 of 18 greens and averaged 271 yards off the tee -- 26 yards farther than her 2015 average.

"If you see a player hitting the ball a long way, she's not worried if it's going right or left; she's just hitting that shot," said 2004 Women's British Open winner Karen Stupples, now an analyst on Golf Channel. "She's showing signs of a confident swing."

Confidence had been in short supply since her last win in February 2014.

"Last year was very difficult and tough, but I knew I could do it," she said. "I had never experienced anything like that, the last two years, really. I know it's not far away.

"You don't just wake up one day and don't have it."

One thing Creamer never lost was her drive to succeed.

Wealthy and married since 2014 to Derek Heath, Creamer easily could choose an easier path. But Creamer got a taste for winning on the LPGA Tour as a high school senior in May of 2005 and never lost it.

"The competitive fire that's in Paula you don't see that in many people," Stupples said. "She has that fire burning in her to succeed -- and to win."

Don't let her signature Sunday pink fool you. The "Pink Panther" is a tiger between the ropes and determined more than ever to return to the winner's circle.

"After last year there was no way I was going to have another year like I did," she said. "I worked my butt off. I've given it as much as I possibly can. At the same time I'm living life.

'Golf isn't everything, but my goal right now is to give it all I got."

Whan's impact

The return to Ocala is a reminder how far the LPGA has come since Michael Whan became commissioner in 2009. Whan inherited a 60-year-old tour struggling to stage tournaments and entice sponsors amid a sour economy. Whan also had to earn the faith of players frustrated by the contentious tenure of Carolyn Bivens. In 2010, the Tour played just 24 events, down from 34 in 2008, for purses totaling $43.3 million. There were no tournaments in Florida -- home to many players and the LPGA's Daytona Beach headquarters. The tour now has 33 events, including two in the Sunshine State, for a total purse of $61.6 million. It is not a stretch to say the affable and popular Whan has performed magic.

Thompson's challenge

Perhaps no woman combines Lexi Thompson's ball striking ability and power. Last week in the Bahamas, the 20-year-old averaged 302 yards off the tee -- a figure many PGA Tour pros gladly would take -- and missed just 13 greens over four rounds. Yet, the phenom from Coral Springs tied for 17th, needing 126 putts. Thompson, who has risen to No. 4 in the world, has a respectable short game. But it lags well behind those of No. 1 Lydia Ko, No. 2 Inbee Park and No. 3 Stacy Lewis. A six-time winner, Thompson needs to improve on and around the greens if she hopes to challenge for world No. 1.

Feherty returns

The face of men's golf always will be larger-than-life figures like Arnie, Tiger, Phil or Jack. These days, a 57-year-old wise-cracking, self-deprecating Northern Irishman demands his share of the spotlight. This season, David Feherty takes his act to NBC and Golf Channel after 19 years at CBS. Fans tune in to watch Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy, but Feherty's on-course reporting is must-see TV. Feherty sprinkles insight and irreverence into a demanding and, at times, stuffy game. The fact he debuts this week at the Phoenix Open -- home to the sport's largest and most raucous crowds -- is perfect timing.

This article was written by Edgar Thompson from The Orlando Sentinel and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.