May in the Northeast is fickle, teasing with summer-like warmth one day, testing with frigid reminders of winter the next. On May 22, 2005, with steady rain whipped by stinging wind off Long Island Sound making the 54 degrees at Wykagyl Country Club near New York City feel much colder, 18-year-old Paula Creamer ushered in a new age for the LPGA Tour.
The California kid who would graduate from Pendleton High School in Bradenton, Fla., just days after winning the Sybase Classic by one stroke over Jeong Jang and Gloria Park, proved she could handle the heat of professional golf. In just her ninth start as a pro, the Pink Panther announced herself as much more than merely ribbons and bows.
On that bitter day in New Rochelle, Creamer showed she had both guts and game. She got off a mid-round bogey train – Nos. 7, 9 and 11 – with nervy par saves from 5 and 9 feet on Nos. 12 and 13 then birdied three of the final five holes – capped with a 17-foot birdie putt on No. 18 – to become, at the time, the youngest winner of a multiple-round LPGA event.
While the years since Creamer’s win at Sybase have seen many teens hoist LPGA trophies – Morgan, Inbee, Yani, Lexi and Brooke among them – Paula was the first of the new wave. It was an auspicious introduction of what those who followed junior golf already knew – Creamer was the real deal.
“It was so surreal to have won so soon in my rookie year,” Creamer said from her Orlando home where she’s used the Covid-19 break to rest a hand injury that has plagued her for several years. “I won on Sunday and four days later, I’m getting my high school diploma.”
She quickly proved Wykagyl was no fluke. In July, Creamer took the Evian Masters by eight strokes over Lorena Ochoa and Michelle Wie on her way to earning a spot on the U.S. Solheim Cup team in less than one season of the two-year eligibility window. Her 3-1-1 record helped defeat Europe, setting the tone in singles with a 7 and 5 rout of Laura Davies in the second match out.
“My goal at the beginning of my rookie year was to make the Solheim Cup on points, not be a Captain’s pick,” Creamer says. “I very much wanted to play for Captain Nancy Lopez. I worked so hard to achieve that and will never forget the moment I realized I had made the team. And then to go on and be a part of a USA victory, that feeling is hard to top.”
At Wykagyl, Creamer displayed the poise, precision and putting that are hallmarks of her game. Playing most of the final 12 holes in a miserable, cold rain, Creamer dug deep into her extensive competitive experience from amateur golf to find the resolve to win.
“I told myself, ‘You are not going to just give this away,” she said on that chilly Sunday. “You are going to fight to the end and someone is going to have to make birdies,’” she said, her smile shining through even as raindrops trickled down her jacket.
“I know how to win from every angle possible – coming from behind, playoff, everything,” Creamer said about an amateur career that included 19 national junior titles.
“Today I just fought down the stretch,” she said. “I knew if there was pressure on the line, I could pull it off. I think winning [in junior events] and knowing I could win definitely helped me.”
The biggest of Creamer’s 10 LPGA wins came 10 years ago when won the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, again showing grit down the stretch.
After a bogey on No. 12 on Sunday cut her lead to two strokes over Na Yeon Choi, Creamer birdied Nos. 14 and 15 as she played the final six holes two under par to win by four over Choi and Suzann Pettersen. Her three-under-par 281 was the only sub-par score on one of the most difficult courses on the planet.
“It was only my third event back from major thumb surgery,” she said. “The whole week was crazy, but one of the most memorable parts was co-hosting a clinic with Arnold Palmer. He gave me some great advice about Oakmont, which I feel greatly contributed to me being able to go on to win my first major,” she said. “Thank you, Mr. Palmer.”
Creamer, who turns 34 on Aug. 5, is like many in the age of Covid-19, finding new endeavors to fill her time.
“I’ve been staying busy with home projects,” she says. “I’m spending more time in the kitchen. I’m staying fit with daily workouts. I started gardening, which is so much fun. You can see some of the photos I’ve posted on my (Instagram).”
She’s also longing to get back to what she does best – play golf.
“I hope to play as much as possible,” she says about 2020. “I’ve missed the competition, the fans and sponsors. I miss seeing all the players, too.”
Ironically, it could be that this break is just what Creamer needed to get healthy again. After all, “Return of the Pink Panther” was a successful sequel.