Rolex Rankings No. 12 and eight-time LPGA winner Paula Creamer made her return to LPGA competition at last week's ShopRite LPGA Classic. Creamer withdrew from the season-opening Honda PTT Thailand after a first round 69 with a recurring thumb injury. After undergoing successful surgery in April, Creamer looked to regain the form that won her four tournaments in 2008. Creamer finished ninth on the 2009 LPGA money list with 10 top-ten finishes.
"It's been a crazy couple months for me, but I'm definitely glad to be back, especially here at Shop Rite," said Creamer before the start of the event. "You know, that Thailand day, honestly I didn't know if I was ever going to play golf again. That's the only thing that was going through my head was, Oh, my gosh. Am I ever going to be able to play golf?"
Details about the surgery. "I had my roller volar plate tightened up, reconstructed, and my tendon on the top of my thumb basically fell off the bone. I have done therapy four times a week every since I've had my cast off. It's tough. One of the hardest things is just pushing and pushing on that joint trying to get it to move. Half the battle is getting it to loosen up and to break up the scar tissue and things. Strengthening my forearms is huge. Lots of rice buckets, lots of and folding newspapers, that kind of thing."
Limitations: "Well, knock-downs for me are very hard. I can't quite do that. I can't quite work the ball as well as I used to. Those are probably the main ones. I've lost a considerable amount of distance off the tee, but that'll come back. You know, I'm probably 25 yards shorter than what I was. But my irons are fairly decent right now with my distance. But I can't go after anything. I can't try and hit a hard 8-iron. Just going to have to hit a little 7, something like that."
Paula Creamer, playing her first round in nearly four months after being sidelined by a thumb injury and the ensuing surgery, made six birdies on her way to a 4-under 67. “It doesn’t feel too bad considering,” Creamer said. “I had some shots out there that I definitely felt it on; others, it's manageable. But overall, today was pretty good. I hit some ‘beauties’ and I hit some really good shots.”
Despite admitted pain and an ever-present bag of ice, she’s in the hunt after the second round. “I would take it in a heartbeat,” she said about her play so far this week. “That's for sure. Honestly, coming into this week it's all about just seeing how far I can go, seeing how much my thumb can handle. If I play great, great, and that's kind of what's been happening.” Creamer’s round featured seven birdies and a bogey, punctuated by a big-breaking 45-footer for birdie on the 18th hole.
But regardless what her scorecard says, the pain is still there. “Today was probably the worst I've felt, just in the sense of the whole day,” Creamer said. “It just kind of was achy. I don't know if it was because of the turnaround last night wasn't as long as I'm used to, but it'll be nice to tee off a little bit later tomorrow.”
On the course, Creamer’s recipe for success has included a commitment to playing within herself, ignoring her inability to hit the ball as far or to hit the variety of shots she used to. “I just played how I could,” she said. “There's a lot of those holes where you have to hit knock downs, and I had to play more club. I can't hit that knock down shot yet…. Those hurt. Those are the ones that actually I feel a lot of pain with, so I try not to hit those as much. Even on 18 today, I kind of stepped away with Colin and was like, ‘Do we want to even attempt a knock down? It's straight into the wind,’ and he's like, ‘No, it's a three shot hole.’ So I just hit it high and went into it. I had to lay up and totally change the game plan.” “I would take it in a heartbeat,” she said about her play so far this week. “That's for sure. Honestly, coming into this week it's all about just seeing how far I can go, seeing how much my thumb can handle. If I play great, great, and that's kind of what's been happening.” Creamer’s round featured seven birdies and a bogey, punctuated by a big-breaking 45-footer for birdie on the 18th hole.
Although she faded from contention on the back nine with two bogeys in her final six holes, Paula Creamer, playing in her first event in four months due to thumb surgery, had things in perspective Sunday evening. “I mean, geez, if someone was going to say you're going to play in the lead group in your first tournament back out in (four months), I would take it in a heartbeat,” said Creamer, who shot a final-round, even-par 71 to finish at 10-under and in seventh alone. “To have a chance to win on Sunday and to get those nerves out, to get back into that competitive mode on the last day is something that I would have been grateful for if somebody told me that last week. You know, I didn't win, but I played great.”
“My thumb is, it's feeling it. It's tired,” Creamer said. “This is a lot of golf for me that I haven't been able to do, and that's why we're out here, to know what I have to do. I have to kind of overcome this whole thing and take it tournament by tournament. And you know, going into next week, I feel pretty good considering what's happened. I can only take confidence away from this week going into a major.”