8-Time LPGA Tour Winner Returned To Competition 3 Weeks Ago After Reconstructive Thumb Surgery July 5, 2010 By David Shefter, USGA

Paula Creamer has eased her back into competition following reconstructive surgery on her left thumb earlier this year. (John Mummert/USGA)

Oakmont, Pa. – Since being cleared to hit balls again following left thumb surgery, Paula Creamer has felt like a baseball player returning from the disabled list.

I have a pitch count, said the 23-year-old Northern California native during a Tuesday press conference at Oakmont Country Club. There are only so many balls I can hit before I know that my hand is going to be strong to go out and play 18 holes.

Creamer, a member of the victorious 2004 USA Curtis Cup Team and an eight-time LPGA Tour winner, tore her ulnar collateral ligament and damaged a tendon that required reconstructive surgery following the Honda Thailand event in February. She was sidelined until last month when she made a reconnaissance visit to Oakmont in preparation for the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open. She has since made three LPGA Tour starts, finishing seventh at the ShopRite Classic in New Jersey and tying for 42nd at the LPGA Championship two weeks ago in Rochester, N.Y. She missed the cut at the Jamie Farr in Toledo, Ohio, last weekend.

It’s probably been about about six, seven weeks where I’ve actually hit balls or putted or chipped, said Creamer, who was battling the same sore left thumb last year at Saucon Valley Country Club. It will take probably a year to be totally healed.

That means Creamer has to carefully monitor her practice sessions. Prior to this week, she was only hitting balls off a tee. Her left arm also can get tired from the lack of conditioning.

I can’t play as much, said Creamer, who has tied for sixth the last two years in the U.S. Women’s Open. It’s been very difficult, very frustrating. I’ve been doing a lot of forearm strength and things for my hand. But we’re learning … and working our way through this. It’s going to take time.

I feel fine physically. I feel strong. My body feels the best it’s felt in a long time. The only thing is my hand gets very tired.

Call To Oakmont

Rebecca Lee-Bentham was making the three-hour drive north from her residence in Toronto to OslerBrook Golf & Country Club in Collingwood, Ontario for the Investors Group Women’s Amateur when a strange number popped up on her cell phone.

While the caller ID might not have been recognizable, the voice on the other end brought an immediate smile to the 18-year-old recent graduate of Northview Heights Secondary School.

Tim Flaherty of the USGA was on the other end to provide the good news that Lee-Bentham was now into the 156-player field for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont Country Club.

I was pretty shocked, said Lee-Bentham. It was so last minute.

Because the winner of last weekend’s LPGA Tour Jamie Farr Classic in Toledo, Ohio, was already in the field, the USGA quickly went to the alternate allotment list. Lee-Bentham was the first alternate from the Fox Chapel Country Club sectional qualifier in Pittsburgh in May.

So Lee-Bentham turned the car around and began the seven-hour drive to western Pennsylvania. She and her family arrived late Monday afternoon and she was to get her first taste of Oakmont on Tuesday. She also grabbed the last available room being held by the USGA at the nearby Hampton Inn.

I was real excited, said Lee-Bentham, who will be a freshman this fall at the University of Texas. This is my first [pro] event.

But it’s not her first competition in the U.S. She has competed in some American Junior Golf Association tournaments and qualified for two U.S. Girls’ Junior Championships. By qualifying for the Women’s Open, Lee-Bentham also is exempt into next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club.

First, though, she will have to deal with the challenge of Oakmont.

[People] said it’s tough, that’s kind of obvious, said Lee-Bentham. But they said it’ fair.

Canadian Bacon

Lee-Bentham is one of five Canadians to get into the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open as an alternate from sectional qualifying. With one of the categories being any winner of a sanctioned LPGA Tour event from last year’s Women’s Open to this year’s championship, spots had to be saved for anyone not previously into the field. When those spots went unused, alternates were contacted from the allotment list.

Besides Lee-Bentham, Sara-Maude Juneau, Nicole Vandermade, Lori Kane and Kirby Dreher got into the field as alternates. Maude-Juneau and Vandermade are amateurs.

Bunker Mentality

During Monday’s practice round, 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion Cristie Kerr plopped a ball in one of Oakmont’s omnipresent bunkers. She took out a 50-degree wedge and made an attempt to extricate the ball.

It wasn’t a bad lie, said the world’s top-ranked player according to the Rolex Rankings. I only had 100 yards to the front [of the green], so it was just flat enough and just short enough a yardage … [that] I thought I could get it to the green.

Three times Kerr made attempts and three times the ball hit the lip.

Being a hero is not going to win this U.S. Open, said Kerr, knowing the strategy is just to accept the mistake and get the ball back into play. It’s whoever is going to take the medicine their best, save as many pars they can and move on.

You’re going to have the patience of a saint here.

Going For It

Creamer certainly learned a harsh lesson last year at the Women’s Open when she tried to drive the par-4 10th hole in Saturday’s third round when the tees were moved up at Saucon Valley to entice players to reach the green with a driver. Creamer took a costly triple-bogey 7 en route a disastrous 79.

So with two par-4s at Oakmont that can be driven if the tee markers are moved forward, will Creamer get aggressive again?

I have a plan, she said with a smile. I take so much from last year into every event I go to now.

The USGA entices you. They want you to bite, and I bit [at Saucon Valley]. I bit pretty hard. I have my goals of what I want to do on the golf course, and I’m going to stick to that.

Creamer did acknowledge that she will attempt to drive the 17th green if the markers are up. If the markers are back, she will lay up on the right side of the fairway.

Waiting Game

Alternates not into the field are allowed to come to Oakmont, but they can’t play the course. Rachel Rohanna from nearby Waynesburg was the second alternate from the Fox Chapel qualifier. But living so close to the venue Rohanna decided to make the short trip to Oakmont, hoping that somebody might withdraw before starting Thursday’s first round. She has been using the practice facilities, but can only walk outside the ropes on the championship course. 

Rohanna would be considered a longshot to get in since the USGA contacts all the first alternates before moving to the second alternates. Then again, if she is on the premises on Thursday and there’s a last-minute withdrawal, Rohanna could be the lucky recipient of a Women’s Open spot.

David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.