Posted by: Mike Cornelius | March 6, 2014

Putt Of A Lifetime Renews Creamer’s Career

By many measures in sports 75 feet is not very far. A hitter leaving the batter’s box doesn’t make it to first base in 75 feet. A defenseman needs to send the puck more than 75 feet across the ice to reach his teammate waiting at the opposite point along the blue line. It’s just a chip shot of a field goal that need travel only 75 feet; a consolation prize for an offense unable to punch cross the goal line from deep in the red zone. In golf, the Serapong Course at Singapore’s Sentosa Golf Club played to 6,600 yards for last weekend’s HSBC Women’s Champions tournament on the LPGA Tour; a distance against which 75 feet seems scarcely noticeable and hardly notable. But sometimes 75 feet is all it takes to change the arc of a career.

On Sunday afternoon Paula Creamer surveyed a 75 foot putt for eagle on the Serapong’s 18th green, the second hole of a sudden death playoff between the American and Spain’s Azahara Munoz. Two hours earlier neither could have predicted that they would still be playing, for third round leader Karrie Webb held a three shot lead when she stood on the 10th tee. But Webb stumbled down the stretch, losing her chance at a spot in the playoff with a bogey on the 18th, her third over the final six holes. Both Creamer and Munoz made par on the first hole of sudden death. Munoz then laid up on the par-5 18th, while Creamer’s second with a fairway wood found its way past bunkers guarding the putting surface and came to rest on the front portion of the green. After Munoz put her third in birdie range, it was the 27-year old Creamer’s turn.

The putt would have to start fast, much as Creamer’s LPGA career rocketed off the launch pad that was her five shot win at the LPGA Qualifying Tournament late in 2004. She was just 18 when a final hole birdie gave her a victory at the Sybase Classic a few months later. The win made her the youngest winner of a multi-round event in LPGA history; a record that stood for six years until the likes of Lexi Thompson and more recently Lydia Ko came along. In July 2005 she notched her second LPGA win at the Evian Masters. Naturally she was the Tour’s Rookie of the Year in a season in which she became the youngest woman golfer to reach $1 million in career earnings and the youngest to earn a spot on the U.S. Solheim Cup team.

On Sunday after surveying the putt’s route uphill to the crest of a ridge and then down to the hole, Creamer took six practice swings, trying to get a feel for the force with which she would have to strike her ball. After one deep calming breath, she stepped into position and sent her Bridgestone golf ball on its way. It climbed quickly up the slope of the green, gradually losing speed as it neared the highest point of its journey.

The peak of Creamer’s time on the LPGA Tour came in 2010. She had garnered eight Tour wins in less than three and one-half years, from that initial victory in May 2005 to a win at the Samsung World Championship in October 2008. Along the way she had climbed the world rankings, peaking at number two. But then like a ball rolling uphill her career seemed to slow. She didn’t play badly, coming close on a number of occasions, including a pair of runner-up finishes in 2009, but the wins stopped coming. A thumb injury required surgery early in 2010, and a lengthy rehab meant she didn’t return to the Tour until shortly before that summer’s Women’s U.S. Open.

But at fiendish Oakmont, with little preparation and against all manner of golf logic, Creamer was the class of the field. She was three back after the opening round, and moved into a tie for first heading into the weekend. A second consecutive round of 1-under par 70 gave her sole possession of first place after 54 holes. In the final round, under a blazing summer sun, Creamer played her best golf of the tournament. She won by four shots after a closing 69, the only golfer in the field to finish under par.

She had nine LPGA wins and her first major, and was still a month shy of her 24th birthday. But on Sunday in Singapore, while still young at age 27, she still had those same nine Tour victories and that single major championship. On the increasingly international and steadily younger LPGA, she had been passed in the rankings by Korea’s Inbee Park and Na Yeon Choi, by Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and by the teenage prodigy Ko. She was no longer even the highest ranked American, with both Stacy Lewis and 19-year old Thompson ranking ahead of her.

But then Creamer’s putt started down towards the hole. The steep slope of the green caused the ball to swing sharply to the left. As the murmur of the crowd began to grow, punctuated by the first shouts of encouragement, the ball regained all of the speed it had lost, accelerating toward the hole. Had it missed the cup it would have rolled perhaps ten feet past. Had it been offline by a fraction it would have spun out rather than falling in, in the end nothing more than a near miss. It would have been like Creamer’s 2012 season, when she went a record nine holes in sudden death against Jiya Shin, before losing at the Kingsmill Championship. That was one of seven top-10 finishes in a year without a victory. Or perhaps it would have like last year, when she climbed to 8th place on the LPGA all-time money list with another six top-10s, but once again failed to win.

But on Sunday the ball did not sail past the hole. On Sunday there was no near miss. Instead the putt fell into the heart of the cup for eagle and victory. Across the green Creamer threw her arms to the sky in triumph and amazement, and then raced to the edge of the putting surface in the direction of several of her best friends on the Tour who had stayed to watch the playoff. There she fell to her knees, pounding the ground with an open palm as she laughed at the glorious absurdity of the manner in which she had won her first tournament in almost four years. With it the home contingent on the LPGA gained another stalwart contender, one who never quite left but kind of drifted into the background. In improbable fashion the Pink Panther returned to the forefront in style; and suddenly one has to think that now that the long drought is over, Paula Creamer surely has more wins still to come. A career was restarted and great promise restored, all over the course of just 75 feet.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. This should go to Paula’s people, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Categories

%d bloggers like this: