Mobile Bay LPGA Classic Pre-Tournament Notes and Interviews

Maria Hjorth on the 72nd hole
Photo Credit: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Maria Hjorth of Sweden hits her approach shot on the 18th hole

2012 Mobile Bay LPGA Classic
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Magnolia Grove, Crossings Course
Mobile, Alabama
April 24, 2012
Pre-tournament notes and interviews

Paula Creamer, Rolex Rankings No. 10
Maria Hjorth, Defending Champion, Rolex Rankings No. 28

The next stop on the LPGA Tour takes place this week in Mobile, Ala. at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail for the 2012 Mobile Bay LPGA Classic. A total of 144 players will compete for $1.25 million purse a first-place prize of $187,500.

Maria Hjorth will return to Crossings Course at Magnolia Grove this week after recording her fifth-career victory last year at the 2011 Avnet LPGA Classic when she defeated Song-Hee Kim by two strokes. One of the 27 Moms on Tour, Hjorth fired back-to-back rounds of 67s during the weekend to capture the victory after starting the day three shots back of the third-round leaders. She recorded five additional top-10 finishes in 2011 including a tie for eighth at the Honda LPGA Thailand and the Wegmans LPGA Championship, solo eighth at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, ninth at the CME Group Titleholders and tied for ninth at the Evian Masters.

Home away from home…Paula Creamer might reside in Orlando, Fla. but the nine-time LPGA Tour champion feels right at home in Mobile, Ala.

The Robert Trent Jones (RTJ) Golf Trail, Magnolia Grove is the site of this week's Mobile Bay LPGA Classic and also played host to the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

A standout junior golfer, Creamer lost in the playoff at the AJGA Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and went on to win the event in 2002. Since joining the LPGA Tour in 2005, Creamer boasts an impressive resume on the RTJ Golf Trail winning the 2007 The Mitchell Company LPGA Tournament of Champions here in Mobile and finished tied for second at the event in 2006.

"I love coming here," said Creamer. "I've had a lot of great memories, whether junior golf and then, you know, winning here a couple years ago. It's a wonderful town. The people just embrace the LPGA, they embrace junior golf. It's golf country."

Despite Creamer posting three top-20 finishes this season, several swing changes has contributed to what she feels has been a disappointing season thus far.

"I'm definitely not satisfied with how I've played, that's for sure," Creamer said. "It hasn't been what I expected. But I know sometimes when you do have changes, it's not going to be right away."

Welcome back, welcome back…Last year's victory in Mobile provided Maria Hjorth with a number of wonderful memories. Her husband, Sean McBride, was on the bag during a rare week off from caddying on the PGA Tour and their then two-year-old daughter, Emily, was also there to see her mom's victory.

Now being back at the Crossings Course at Magnolia Grove, the site of her fifth career LPGA Tour victory, Hjorth said there has been a little bit of nostalgia setting in.

"It's always great to be back at a place where you've won obviously, and defending is always special," Hjorth said. "There's obviously a lot of memories that come back. You go out there and play and you see a lot of shots that you hit last year and you still see a lot of putts that you made from the tournament. And obviously a lot of great memories with my husband on the bag and my daughter was here and so it was a nice family get-together for the week. Having a win as well was even more amazing."

It's been a slow start to this season for Hjorth, who has played in six events this year and made four cuts. Her best finish so far this year came in a T25 at the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore. Hjorth hopes that perhaps the return to Mobile and a course that she feels suits her game will be just what she needs to jumpstart the season.

"I feel pretty good about my game and I've worked hard on it, especially my putting," Hjorth said. "Hopefully it will come together. I feel it's very close, and coming out here and having good memories, hopefully that will bring my game up a little bit and have a good finish."

Bringing a little bit of hope: There were a lot of practice rounds taking place on Tuesday afternoon on the Robert Trent Jones Trail in Mobile but one group garnered a little bit more attention during the one hole that they played.

LPGA veterans Wendy Ward and Kim Hall played the 18th hole of the Crossings Course at Magnolia Grove alongside of a group of warriors from Team Hope For The Warriors on Tuesday, including Staff Sgt. Johnathan S. Rose who grew up in North Mobile county, Ala. Rose, who enlisted into the Marine Corps in August of 2001, was injured by an IED on May 15, 2010. He suffered burns to his face and left arm, a shattered jaw and loss of teeth, a broken hip, loss of vision in his left eye, busted ear drums and a broken right arm, hand and fingers. He remains on active duty and has supplemented his recovery through sports such as handcycling and golf.

"It's going to be great, especially being back home," Rose said of the experience of playing golf with some LPGA players. "It's just going to be great to get out there, share some times, hit some balls into the woods, and hopefully somebody shoots worse than me laug."

The experience of playing with members of Team Hope For the Warriors was also special for Ward and Hall due to their ties to the military. Ward's father spent 30 years in the Army and did two tours of duty in Vietnam while Hall's husband is an active duty Air Force member with the family stationed in Las Vegas, where he works out of Creech Air Force base.

"The military's always been very near and dear to my heart, and it's neat to be able to be involved and give back in this way," said Ward.

Click here to see the Team Hope For The Warriors Photo Gallery. >>

Of Note…Auburn University alum Candace Sherppede and amateur Janie Jackson earned spots in the field during Monday's qualifier. Sherppede is a Birmingham, Ala. native while Jackson is a senior at Huntsville High School and will be attending the University of Arizona next year to play college golf.

PAULA CREAMER, Rolex Rankings No. 10

MODERATOR: All right. We're here with Paula Creamer in the interview room. Thanks for joining us today, great to have you here.
PAULA CREAMER: Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: First off, just give us some initial thoughts about being back here in Mobile and how much you enjoy this event every year.
PAULA CREAMER: I do, I love coming here. I've had a lot of great memories, whether junior golf and then, you know, winning here a couple years ago. It's great. It's a wonderful town. The people just embrace the LPGA, they embrace junior golf. It's golf country. It's nice, it's nice to come to a place where there's familiar faces and a lot of the volunteers, the same volunteers. It's just nice to come to such a welcoming stop for us on the Tour.

MODERATOR: It's been a good season for you, a good start to the year. You've had some good finishes. You're coming off two back-to-back Top 20 finishes. How are you feeling about the state of your game, and any changes that you've been working on since the start of the season?
PAULA CREAMER: I'm definitely not satisfied with how I've played, that's for sure. It hasn't been what I expected. But I know sometimes when you do have changes, it's not going to be right away. But I am -- I'm working very hard. I went home after Hawaii, worked with my coach again trying to keep maintaining what I'm doing. But I'm hitting the ball well, it's just coming down to putts, and I really haven't made that many birdies this year and it's something that I'm looking at. I'm trying to figure out what's the difference. And it's so close, but it's still kind of far away at the same time.

But I feel a lot more confident out on the golf course. I worked a lot on my routine, worked on, you know, just what I do practice-wise and that kind of thing. So it's really just kind of been a whole, I guess, (inaudible) in the sense of my career so far. It's been frustrating at times, but hopefully at the end of the year, next year, we'll be sitting here a happy person.

MODERATOR: What is the biggest change do you feel like in your game this year compared -- you know, what was the biggest switch that you made that you feel is really coming together that's helping your golf game?
PAULA CREAMER: My driver. I've really worked on my driver golf swing. It's different than my irons. I hit down on the ball, so that's why I'm a fairly good iron player, and you can't do that with a driver, you have to hit it on the way up. And that's something that's a huge change, but we're getting there and it's slowly coming. It's been -- when I do it, I gain about 30 yards or so. When I don't, I'm back further. It's hard, like I said, but I also think that taking my golf swing to a golf course in a tournament, it's hard to step out to a golf course that you know so well but you're trying to do something that is new and, you know, something that's worked in the past, just mentally that's something that I've had to really overcome.

Q. With your swing change, was there a point where you said, I've got to change this? Do you remember when that was or why you wanted to do it?
PAULA CREAMER: It was about last year. My coach, David, and I always talked about it, talked about, you know, what we're going to do, when we're going to do it. Then I had surgery and I wasn't able to hit that many balls because of my thumb.

Now I'm the healthiest than I've ever been, stronger than I've ever been, and so it was kind of perfect timing. It's hard, like I said, just mentally. Why would you want to fix something that you do so well with. But you have to have consistency and I have to be able to -- I want my career to last a long time and my golf swing, and I needed to make it tighter, I needed to make it stronger, use my bigger muscles instead of constantly using my hand.

And I want to get better and I feel that this was the time. Nobody ever wants to have change, that's for sure, but when it's good, it's really good. It's not when it's bad, it's that bad, but Top 20, in my eyes, I want first place every week.

Q. That's what I was going to ask you, too. When you make a change, do you have a specific goal in mind? Do you think you can get back to No. 1 or what?
PAULA CREAMER: My goal has always been to be the No. 1 player. It's funny you say that, this past couple weeks, my caddy and coach and I, we've all been talking about my goals and what I want and kind of just reevaluating it. I feel like I'm kind of stale right now, stagnant with some things. It's hard when you are working on something at the same time to say, okay, I want to do this, this, this. But that's how I've always been, and so we've really evaluated what I want. A lot of it does come from my practice routines and eliminating mistakes out on the golf course that shouldn't happen, carelessness, things like that. It's just to win. I mean, I want to win so badly, I think I want it too bad at times and I get in my own way.

Q. Is your game at a point now where you're able to trust it enough where you think you could win this week?
PAULA CREAMER: I do, I think just because this golf course suits my game so well. I've gotten longer, so the par 5s I can tackle a little bit easier. The par 3s here are great, they're great par 3s when it comes to a good iron player putting it in the right section, and just confidence of winning out here.

I really like playing this golf course, I always have. I like Robert Trent Jones style of golf courses. It's all about the greens and undulations and things like that, and that's where I capitalize. At the same time, I'm not trying to put expectations in my mind that I don't feel are attainable, but I do feel like I can win out here if I play my best.

Q. (Inaudible) the type of course that you haven't won on?
PAULA CREAMER: For sure. You know what it takes, you know what it feels like, you know what the last tee shot feels like on 18 on Sunday. And just, you know, I've played this golf course so many times, I feel like it's almost one of my home courses. I mean, last year they changed the greens, so that wasn't the difference, but tee to green this is -- you know, I think I know it pretty well. I've been here for 10 or eight, six, seven years or something, so it's a lot.

Q. Obviously it's a strong field, but when Yani Tseng's not out there competing, what's it like? Is there a different attitude as far as is she maybe like Tiger in his prime where like okay, hey, whenever she's in a tournament, she's sort of the favorite or the one to look out for?
PAULA CREAMER: Well, she is the No. 1 player in the world, so obviously you're very aware of where she's at in the standings. But no, we haven't really played in a tournament where she's not there, so I can't really answer that question.

But she does bring a huge aspect to the game. She's raised the bar for women's golf. She's definitely pushing everybody to get better. She's pushing me. I mean, I work harder now than I ever have, I think, and it's because I want where she's at. She's put in the time and effort and she's winning, and so it is different when she's not here, but at the same time, you're not really playing one person, you're playing the golf course.

Q. The changes that you're making when you're at a course that you are familiar with, is that about a better measuring stick of where you're at just because of the familiarity here?
PAULA CREAMER: Yes, especially with like tee shots and things like that where I know where I've been in the past and where I am now. Kraft was a huge difference for me. When I played there, I was a lot longer on holes; kind of went backwards a little bit in the week, but it is -- confidence-wise, it does feel good to come to a golf course where I know where I can hit it and where I can't, that kind of thing.

Q. I was going to say coming from Hawaii to Mobile, long travel and a different kind of environment. How much of a shock is that for the players there?
PAULA CREAMER: I mean, that's the life of a professional golfer really. We're always in just a place for a week and then we move. Hawaii was really nice. Mobile's nice, too, but I mean, a little different food. I think that's probably the biggest difference. (Inaudible) anywhere else in the world that tastes as good as it does here. That's part of what we do. That's part of just traveling. And, you know, I went home in between, so I got to kind of relax for a little bit and then come back here. But I don't think that it's something that you have to worry or really think about it, it's just a time change really.

Q. Paula, you're one of the LPGA's more well-known faces out there. How do you kind of approach marketing or just kind of getting your name out there, getting your name out there as far as endorsements and whatnot, things maybe outside of golf?
PAULA CREAMER: Well, I mean, it's nice when you have your golf to back up, a reason to be out in the world. But at the same time, we do a lot with the LPGA, with my sponsors. I do a lot of global things. I've always said I'm a global player, I go to Asia all the time. It's a great opportunity when you have other passions outside of golf that you can go into. I love fashion, so designing sunglasses, things like that, that you can kind of take what you love and bring it into the game of golf.

MARIA HJORTH, Rolex Rankings No. 28

MODERATOR: All right. We would like to welcome our defending champion, Maria Hjorth, into the interview room. Thanks for joining us today.
MARIA HJORTH: Thank you.

MODERATOR: First of all, welcome back. I know it's always exciting to come back as defending champion. What are kind of some of your memories of last year and how does it feel to be back here again?

MARIA HJORTH: It's always great to be back at a place where you've won obviously, and defending is always special. There's obviously a lot of memories that come back. You go out there and play and you see a lot of shots that you hit last year and you still see a lot of putts that you made from the tournament. And obviously a lot of great memories with my husband on the bag and my daughter was here and so it was a nice family get-together for the week. Having a win as well was even more amazing.

MODERATOR: Did you get out there and play already today?
MARIA HJORTH: I played 9 holes today.

MODERATOR: Any differences that you noticed in the course? How is it looking out there just heading into this week?
MARIA HJORTH: The course is looking really, really good, I think it's matured a little bit more since last year. Obviously it's a little bit softer this year, I think, than compared to last year. I prefer it a little bit firmer, but it's still on a Tuesday so a lot of things can happen still. I think it's looking very good, so it should be a good tournament.

MODERATOR: This is the eighth event already of the season. How are you feeling about your game heading into this week, and overall kind of thoughts on so far your performance this season?
MARIA HJORTH: So far it hasn't been as good as I would have liked. I haven't really had any good top finishes this year. I feel pretty good about my game and I've worked hard on it, especially my putting. Hopefully it will come together. I feel it's very close, and coming out here and having good memories, hopefully that will bring my game up a little bit and have a good finish.

Q. I know you play all over the world, but is there anything that makes this tournament unique, or do they all kind of run together? But is there something about playing in Mobile that's maybe different obviously now that you've won here that would make it special, but is there anything else?
MARIA HJORTH: I think it's always nice to come back here because the hospitality is amazing. You feel really welcome coming here and obviously playing a Robert Trent Jones course, to me, it's great. I've had a lot of success playing those courses. So I just think it's -- you feel kind of a homey, kind of a cozy feeling coming to Mobile, I think, because that's the hospitality that I feel here.

Q. Is there anything special about this course? We talked earlier and you said you feel like this course might suit your game pretty well. Do you still feel that's true, and if so, how can you take advantage of that?
MARIA HJORTH: The course suits my game? Yeah, I think so. I mean, like last year it played really hard and fast. I'm hitting my driver really good, and coming in with maybe a little bit shorter irons into the greens compared to maybe other players really helps because obviously you get more spin on the ball and can place the ball better on the green. I think even this year it's playing a little bit softer so you won't have the run-outs on the fairways. But hitting good drives will still help me because I'm still coming in with shorter irons and it will be easier to get the ball closer to the pin.

HOPE FOR THE WARRIORS transcript

MODERATOR:  All right, everyone.  Thank you for joining us today.  We have a couple of our LPGA players here and a few of our very special warriors that we have, and they're going to take part in a fun event playing Hope for the Warriors out here on 18, so if I could just get everybody -- have you guys introduce yourselves.
WENDY WARD:  We'll go with the oldest.  My name's Wendy Ward.  I have been an LPGA Tour pro for the last 17 years. 

DOMINGO ESLAVA:  My name is Domingo Eslava.  I've been in the Army six years, stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington.  I'm glad to be here, should be a lot of fun.

KIM HALL:  I'm Kim Hall and I'm a semi-retired LPGA pro, but I'm so happy to be here playing this week and especially for this cause.

JOHNATHAN ROSE:  I'm Johnathan Rose from Mobile, been in the Marine Corps about 10 years plus now.  And Roll Tide.

NICHOLAS BRADLEY:  I'm not a Tide fan.  Nick Bradley, I did eight years active duty Air Force just up the street, (inaudible.)  I currently live in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.  I've never been an LPGA Tour pro at all, not retired at all.  That's about it.

STEVEN MOULTON:  I'm Steve Moulton, four years in the Army, from New York State.  Pleasure to be here.  I want to thank everybody.  Go Vols.

MODERATOR:  Kim and Wendy, I know you guys both have close ties to the military and have been taking part in some of these events before.  Wendy, can you first start off and just tell me kind of what it means to you to be able to take part in events like this and kind of your ties to the military and why it's such an important part of your life?  
WENDY WARD:  Well, I'm not your typical military brat, but my dad was 30 years career Army and did two tours of Vietnam before I was born -- my sister and I were born.  And since then, they retired in San Antonio and my dad's been very active in the Center for the Intrepid there, which is a huge rehab facility for burn victims and the different troops coming back.  And I got the fortunate experience to go through the Center for the Intrepid earlier this spring and was just really humbled by not only the treatment, but really by just the attitude of the guys and gals that were recovering and how some of them have lost multiple limbs and were getting better just to be able to go back and serve again and go back to their buddies.  So the military's always been very near and dear to my heart, and it's neat to be able to be involved and give back in this way.

KIM HALL:  My husband is active duty Air Force and we're stationed in Las Vegas.  He actually works out of Creech Air Force base.  He's in the UAVs and his initial training was in the F-16.  He's in the back of the room.  Go Air Force.  He's an Air Force Academy guy, too, and his older brother and his dad are also Air Force, so I married into the Air Force and actually it's been wonderful.  I'm always surprised at what a family the military really is.  Even if you go to a new base, everybody really takes you in immediately and it's just a wonderful experience. 

My husband had to do a tour of duty in Afghanistan, not as long as probably some of the Army and Marines guys have done, but we really feel for when people have to go and be away from their families.  Also, if they get wounded, come back and just try and get back into real life again, it's so tough. 

So it's great for us to be part of a cause like this, and at our other tournament, the Navistar, we do Wounded Warriors as well and Wendy and I are always involved in those things and we couldn't be more proud.

Q.  How does it feel to be back home?
JOHNATHAN ROSE:  It's going to be great, especially being back home.  I haven't been home in that long.  I try to stay wherever -- actually, I'm in San Antonio now.  Roll Tide still.  I'm not from there, I'm from here; I just rest my head there. 

But it's just going to be great to get out there, share some fun times, hit some balls into the woods, and hopefully somebody shoots less than me.  That's about it.

Q.  Are you excited about playing golf today?
STEVEN MOULTON:  I think it will be a great experience.  I grew up with my grandparents and my grandfather was a big golfer and he taught me how to play golf, and we would go to the Greater Hartford Open and I would idolize all those people, although I've never been able to play that well.  I think the experience will be something that lasts a lifetime and I look forward to it. 

JOHNATHAN ROSE:  Roll Tide.

Topics: Airbus LPGA Classic, Notes and Interviews, McBride, Maria, Creamer, Paula

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