Pride and Patriotism July 4, 2016 | SAN MARTIN, CALIF. By Greg Midland, USGA

With the Fourth of July kicking off championship week, Paula Creamer looks to return to form at CordeValle. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Women's Open Home

Anyone who thinks that red, white and blue clash with pink never met Paula Creamer. The 2010 U.S. Women’s Open champion – a.k.a. the Pink Panther – is passionate about her country, especially when its birthday overlaps with her favorite event.

“To be able to come out here, on the Fourth of July, and play in our national championship… it just puts things in perspective,” said Creamer following her nine-hole practice round on a cool, sunny holiday morning at CordeValle. “It’s crazy how many of these I’ve played in now [13, the last 11 as a professional]. Over the years you realize what a blessing this is. We play golf for a living, and we live in an amazing country.”

These aren’t just words for Creamer, who turns 30 on Aug. 5. She is married to an Air Force pilot and gives generously of her time to military events and causes, developing lasting connections with those she meets. Just last month, Creamer was personally affected by the death of Navy pilot Jeff Kuss, who was at the controls of a Blue Angels jet when it crashed in Smyrna, Tenn., on June 2.

“I flew with the Blue Angels [last August] and I actually flew with Captain Kuss,” said Creamer. “When I saw the news my heart just sunk.”

That sadness continues to affect Creamer, who nonetheless is hoping for a restorative week amid the scenic Santa Cruz Mountains. This is the first U.S. Women’s Open to be played in the Bay Area, and it is just an hour from Paula’s childhood home in Pleasanton, 25 miles southeast of Oakland. She desperately wants to play well, for herself and for the enthusiastic gallery that she is sure to attract.

To do that, she will have to get back to the consistent form that has eluded her of late. She comes into the U.S. Women’s Open having missed five of her last six cuts, and hasn’t tasted victory since the HSBC Women’s Champions event in Singapore in March 2014. Long known for her accurate ball-striking, she is in the midst of making some changes to her swing that have yet to take hold.

“My misses right now are so drastic, and I’ve never played golf like that before,” she said. “I’ve been working hard with my coach, and obviously the results don’t show it, but sometimes you have to go backward to go forward. I just need to get more comfortable. You can’t change how a person learns. I learn by feel, and right now I’m a bit more technical than I would like to be.”

The U.S. Women’s Open wouldn’t seem like a perfect place to attempt to regain feel, but this championship has always inspired Creamer. She has 11 career top-20 finishes and just one missed cut, as a 16-year-old amateur playing her first U.S. Women’s Open in 2003. Experience matters in this championship, and Creamer has it in spades. She has learned valuable lessons over the years about what it takes to win a USGA championship – patience, course management, mental strength – and she plans to put those qualities to use this week.

“I think the golf course sets up really well for my game,” she said. “It calls for you to be aggressive at times but also take your medicine when you need to.”

As if competing in her favorite championship in her home region wasn’t enough of a spotlight for Creamer, there’s also the matter of seeing herself in one of television’s hot seats. She is the guest on a new episode of “Feherty” that debuts Monday night on Golf Channel. While she admitted to some nerves about which segments make it into the episode of the popular David Feherty interview series, she embraces the chance to bring more attention to the women’s game.

“I hope it shows more of who I am. I’m a person, and not just a golfer,” she said. “When my husband and I saw that they were going to air it on the Fourth of July, Women’s Open week at home… it’s just the perfect mixture.”

The week has barely begun. Players are trying to get familiar with CordeValle and find out if their games will be up to the challenges of this championship. For Creamer, it’s a matter of blocking out the distractions of playing so close to home and regain the feel that propelled her to a four-stroke victory six years ago at Oakmont. It’s a win that resonates with her regularly.

“This is our biggest week; our national championship,” she said. “I absolutely love looking at my U.S. Open trophy at home. Every day I walk by it and it puts a smile on my face. It makes you realize how hard you’ve worked. You have to make sacrifices at times, but there’s nothing better than holding that trophy.”

Rest assured that there will be many people at CordeValle rooting for her to do it again.

Greg Midland is the director of editorial content for the USGA. Email him at gmidland@usga.org.

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