In the film “Five Easy Pieces” Jack Nicholson, visiting his family on a dreary day in Puget Sound, reflects on his childhood as a piano prodigy by saying, “Auspicious beginnings,” abruptly dismissing the past. On a similarly cold, damp day in 2005, 18-year-old Paula Creamer had her own auspicious beginning, winning the Sybase Classic. This week, she tackles a challenge the Nicholson character refused to face when Creamer resumes pursuit of a passion put on pause.
If irony plays a role – and it often does in sports – this is an auspicious week for Creamer to compete for the first time since she was T-63 at the BMW Ladies Championship in October 2019. Saturday, May 22, the third round of the Pure Silk Championship at the Kingsmill Resort, is the 16th anniversary of when the Pink Panther hoisted the first of her 10 LPGA Tour trophies, becoming the youngest winner of a multiple round event at the time.
The way Creamer won at Sybase reveals much about the fire that burns beneath the pink ribbons and bows. In just the ninth tournament of her Rolex Rookie of the Year season, Creamer flashed grit well beyond her years when she performed one of the most difficult tasks in golf – putting the wheels back on when they’ve come off the tracks.
After bogeys on Nos. 7, 9 and 11 of the final round dropped her into a five-way tie for the lead, Creamer clipped a tree with her drive on No. 12, missed the green and was faced with a five-footer to save par. She made that putt and a much more difficult right-to-left nine-footer for par on the next hole. Those gutsy saves propelled Paula to three birdies over the closing five holes – including a 17-footer on No. 18 – and a one-stroke victory.
“I told myself, ‘You are not going to just give this away. At least you are going to fight until the end and someone is going to have to make birdies,’” Creamer said.
This week, she returns with that same fire in her belly, but also with the maturity and wisdom only accumulated by the bumps and bruises of life.
“I know there will be rust, but I am hoping it will fall away quickly,” Creamer says. “The last few months of 2019 and almost all of 2020 I didn’t pick up a club. It was a great break.”
Creamer was able to recharge not just her emotional batteries but also reclaim her physical well-being after a painful slide that began March 30, 2010, when she had surgery on her left thumb. That was followed by surgery on her left wrist in October 2017.
“This is now the healthiest I’ve been in over 10 years,” Creamer says. “It doesn’t hurt to hit a ball, which is fantastic. My thumb and wrist have finally been given enough time to heal.”
For Creamer, the COVID-19 pandemic imposed much-needed down time. The healing process also seems to have rekindled a passion dampened by a decade of struggle.
“I spent time water skiing, surfing, cooking, reading, and wearing a mask,” she says about the lost 2020 season. “Eventually, as things relaxed somewhat, I spent time with my friends and family. It was great, but now it is time to compete again. I can’t wait.”
Part of the rebuilding process has been reuniting with swing coach David Whelan, who began working with Creamer during an amateur career in which she won 19 national junior tournaments.
“David is one of the reasons I have had the career I have had,” Creamer says. “He knows my game so well and has been there through everything with me. We worked together since I was about 15 or 16 except for the past several years. It is great to be back together.”
The last top-10 for Creamer was T-6 at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in July, 2019, a team event in which she had Morgan Pressel as a partner. Her last individual top-10 was T-8 in June 2019 at the ShopRite Classic.
Creamer’s career has been one of remarkable contrast divided by injury. From 2005 through 2014, she won 10 times, including the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open, and missed only 10 cuts. Since then, Paula is winless, has missed 42 cuts and her Rolex Ranking – once No. 2 – is No. 290. After seven consecutive Solheim Cups with a 17-9-5 record, she watched it on TV in 2019.
One of Creamer’s most remarkable accomplishments was qualifying for the 2005 U.S. Solheim Cup team with less than a full season to accumulate the necessary points while everyone else had two seasons.
“I wanted it so badly,” Creamer says. “It was the main goal of my rookie year. I was determined to make that team on points. I knew it had never been done and that goal kept me fighting every week. I think I wanted it a little extra because many doubted I could do it.”
Indeed, Creamer is a dangerous woman to doubt. Not only did she make that 2005 team, she went 3-1-1, including a 7 and 5 defeat of Laura Davies in singles as the United States reclaimed the Cup.
After that 2005 Sybase Classic, the LPGA Tour went to the Corning Classic, but Creamer went home. Four days after being handed her first LPGA Tour trophy, Paula was handed a diploma from Pendleton High School in Bradenton, Fla.
“I remember pretty much everything about that day,” Cremer says about Sybase. “It was cold and wet and I wasn’t playing great, but I managed to keep myself in it until I started to play better. It was a great day for me and I didn’t mind being wet anymore.”
In July of 2005, she was handed another trophy at the Evian Championship. Two weeks later she turned 19. “I went with Jules [Inkster] and some other friends down to the town of Evian for the evening and had a good time,” Paula says. “I think I should just leave it at that.”
Paula Creamer was not supposed to win the 2005 Sybase Classic at 18 – especially after three bogeys in five holes midway through the final round. But she did.
Creamer was not supposed to get enough points to qualify for the 2005 U.S. Solheim Cup in only one season. But she did.
Paula, it seems, is pretty good at writing the ending of scripts. This movie feels less like “Five Easy Pieces” and more like “The Return of the Pink Panther.”
This auspicious beginning has an ending yet to be written and it could very well be one that once again demands the words: “But she did.”