Paula Creamer preached patience.
Patience in following a game plan around a pesky Oakmont Country Club, in not pushing the boundaries of a wrapped left thumb and in keeping emotions in place.
On Sunday at the 65th U.S. Women’s Open, Creamer, 23, finally placed her hands on the Harton S. Semple Trophy – a prize that had eluded her each of the past two years.
"I've always thought of my career as being a pretty solid player," said Creamer, a nine-time winner on the LPGA Tour. "But
Even a final-round 66 by Na Yeon Choi (above) was not enough to catch Paula Creamer. (Hunter Martin/USGA)
In the morning, Creamer tidied up her third round with a birdie at the 18th hole. Later in the afternoon, Creamer began the final round with a three-shot lead, sitting on 1-under 212.
Throughout the round Creamer withstood charges from Suzann Pettersen and Na Yeon Choi, both of whom got to within two shots of Creamer and eventually shared second at 1-over 285. Pettersen’s runner-up finish was her second in a major this year; she also finished one shot back at the Kraft Nabisco Championship to Yani Tseng.
"Kraft, I missed a few putts coming in," said the Swede, who ranked first in greens in regulation, but was T-60 in putts. "This week it's been overall putting every day."
When Pettersen stumbled, Choi picked up the chase. The 22-year-old Korean, playing four groups ahead of Creamer, went out in 5-under 31 — eagling the par-5 ninth — and posted a 66, the second-lowest score of the championship.
Creamer admitted to not knowing of the threats until standing on the 18th green. By that point, the plan had been well executed. A 2-under 69 – Creamer’s third successive sub-par round – gave her a 3-under-par 281 score.
"We had a big plan this week," said caddie Colin Cann, who also was on the bag for Annika Sorenstam’s first two U.S. Women’s Open titles in 1995 and ‘96. "We came here a month ago, researched the golf course and made a plan for every hole, every shot. We figured out where to hit the fairway, where to hit the green and got a good idea where the pin locations would be.
"But even with the plan, she knew coming in that she had to keep her emotions in check. Sometimes she can get a little fiery, but that’s what won it for her. She kept her emotions intact."
The U.S. Women’s Open humbles players, and Creamer has endured such treatment in the past two championships. At Interlachen Country Club in 2008, Creamer began the final round one shot off the lead, shot 78 and tied for sixth. At Saucon Valley Country Club last year, Creamer was one shot back of the 36-hole lead. Playing in the final Saturday pairing with Cristie Kerr, Creamer made a triple-bogey 7 on the 10th hole, shot 79 and again tied for sixth.
"Sometimes it takes a couple of losses before you can win," Cann said. "I think she got a little bit aggressive at times in those Opens and it hurt her. You just have to learn that there will be some bad holes, some bad breaks. But if you stay the course, things will work out."
Creamer’s father, Paul, also saw a transformation beginning.
"She learned a lot from those experiences," he said. "She may still be young, but she learns quickly."
Creamer, a two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinalist (2003 and ’04), also learned patience through pain.
The 2005 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year and three-time Solheim Cup team member, has long been bothered by a sore left wrist. Last year, though, her left thumb became an issue and was further aggravated in February’s LPGA opener in Thailand. On March 30, surgery on stretched ligaments in her thumb was performed, sidelining Creamer until four weeks ago.
"They were [months of] just maturing, learning how to handle adversity, learning how to become more of an adult in a sense, and you have to really count your blessings every day," she said.
In preparation for this week, Creamer and Cann studied the coverage of the third and final rounds of the 2007 U.S. Open, won by Angel Cabrera. Limited to hitting just 40 practice balls a day, she stayed patient and consistent — ranking T-3 in fairways hit, T-8 in greens in regulation and third in total putts.
By Sunday evening, Cann was convinced he was watching a more mature Creamer, a player who had seven top-10 finishes in her previous 12 majors and may now rip off a few more major wins.
"I saw it at last year’s [Ricoh Women’s] British Open," he said. "We had an outside chance to get into a playoff, but she had a bad last hole. But she showed me that week that she knew how to play majors."
This week, Creamer showed the world. And her win was a feel-good story – no matter how much her thumb hurt.
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.