As the nimbus clouds romped away early Thursday evening, leaving behind a Lancaster Country Club course waterlogged to the point that U.S. Women’s Open play was suspended for the day, Paula Creamer chuckled.
“I feel it’s always this way with USGA events for me,” said Creamer, who was about to play her 15th hole, the par-3 sixth, when play was suspended due to dangerous conditions at 6:03 p.m. EDT and called for the day nearly two hours later. "I’m always in a delay, but I will take it. I’ve been in this position before."
The 28-year-old Creamer knows the rigors of this particular major championship, so weather elements are like a jab-and-cross punching combination in boxing. Before the heavy thunderstorms arrived, swirling afternoon winds had players on their toes.
“This golf course is hard enough without the wind and then you add that to the mix ... it played tough in the afternoon,” said the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open champion, who was even par with two birdies and a double bogey when the horns sounded. She came back early Friday morning to birdie the par-5 seventh and finished at 1-under 69.
The score marks only the second under-par opening round for Creamer in 13 U.S. Women’s Open starts and the first in the 60s.
For all of Creamer’s trademark pink veneer, there is a hardscrabble competitor underneath. She embraces USGA championships, because they are such grueling affairs.
This week the opponent is William Flynn’s 95-year-old architectural gem. Five years ago, the fight for Creamer was some four hours to the west at venerable Oakmont Country Club. She won that week, gritting through a left-thumb injury that limited her practice time, defeating Suzann Pettersen and Na Yeon Choi by four strokes. That victory trumped her previous best USGA finishes, successive semifinal berths in the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur championships in 2003 and 2004.
She is keenly aware of the demands that await her in the coming rounds.
"You have to be very patient,” said Creamer, who has never finished worse than 19th in her 11 U.S. Women’s Open starts since she missed the cut in her 2003 debut. "I like golf courses where you can use all clubs in your bag. That's the reason why we have 14. And when you get the opportunity to do that, it separates everybody. I like the challenge."
Creamer has perplexed many by winning only once since her triumph at Oakmont. That lone win, her 12th worldwide, was at last year’s HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore, in a season Creamer categorizes as her worst on tour.
The 2005 LPGA Rookie of the Year and five-time United States Solheim Cup Team member finished a career-low 22nd on the LPGA Tour money list and missed her first cut in 83 events. She missed a second cut seven tournaments later at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, her first time not playing the weekend in 38 major starts as a professional.
Her on-course results may have been less than acceptable, but 2014 was made memorable after marrying Derek Heath in December.
While she had found her soulmate, she was about to do some professional soul-searching after a rough swing through Asia early in this 2015 season. She tied for 46th in Thailand and 55th in Singapore.
"It was just kind of a wake-up call after Asia,” said Creamer in mid-April of an overhaul that included replacing all the irons in her bag with new lofts and degrees, with resulting swing changes. "You know, I just kind of had to start over.
"It was hard when you have to look at yourself and realize that I need to work a little harder and do these things. Of course I'm an alpha female who thinks she can do everything. I couldn't. I had to realize that.”
In April’s Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, just 30 minutes west of where she grew up in Pleasanton, Calif., Creamer opened with a career-worst 82. That may have been the bottoming-out point, because Creamer, who is 31st in the Rolex Rankings, remains resolute with the changes being made.
“I had a rough start, that’s for sure, the first three months I was definitely working on a bunch of things and trying to get everything back together,” she said. “My life has changed obviously. It doesn’t mean I am any different as a golfer or person. My goals are still very much the same if not higher.
“I’m pleased with how things are coming and I’m still working hard and that’s what you have to do.”
There have been recent signs of improvement, such as two top-10 finishes in her last four starts. Her opening round that spilled into Friday morning was yet another indication she is willing to fight back.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.