Paula Creamer is off to a fast start after making a major change coming into this week’s LPGA season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic.
Creamer left her long-time swing coach, David Whelan, in December and brought on Gary Gilchrist as her new coach. Creamer, playing this week in her first event since the switch, shot a 1-under-par 72 Friday in heavy winds, which left her two shots off the lead when she left the course.
Creamer said the coaching change wasn’t an easy move. She was close to Whelan, working with him since she was 14. She won all 10 of her LPGA titles under his tutelage, but her game began swooning two seasons ago, a year of major transition in her life. She also got married at the end of 2014. She began overhauling her swing earlier that year, asking Whelan to help her find more distance. Creamer told GolfChannel.com early last season that she was getting caught between two swings.
“David and I were fine,” Creamer told the media after her round Friday. “It was definitely just something that we couldn't work out. Still talk to him all the time, but after 15 years together, it's kind of, it's crazy.”
Gilchrist’s students include Shanshan Feng, No. 6 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. He coached Yani Tseng through her run as No. 1 in the world and worked with Michelle Wie early in Wie’s rise as a phenom. Creamer knew Gilchrist from her days as a student at the Leadbetter Academy, where Gilchrist was the director of golf.
“I've known Gary forever,” Creamer said. “He's worked with me even before I worked with David.
“I just think it's a great fit. I love the way he teaches the game, love the way how he gets in and can show me, and he's definitely made it very fun for me right now. Made a lot of changes, but they're worth it, and I believe in it.”
Gilchrist told GolfChannel.com he’s pleased seeing Creamer adapt so quickly to changes they’re making.
“I was pretty excited when she reached out to me because of her personality, the desire she has and how motivated she is and how hard she wants to work to reach her full potential again,” Gilchrist said.
Creamer, who turns 30 in August, is trying to turn around a frustrating slide.
Back when the Rolex Women’s World Rankings made its debut in 2006, Creamer was No. 2. She has been fixture among the top 10 most of her career. With her swing changes, however, and how they created equipment issues, Creamer slid to No. 63 in the world, where she ranks this week.
Creamer said she has made significant changes in the short time she has worked with Gilchrist, changing her pre-shot routine, her setup and address, and even her warm up.
“It's been a month and a half and we've changed a lot of things, but I've seen great results,” Creamer said. “It was very hard. It wasn't like it just came naturally, and I'm still working on it, but I know I need to do this to become the best player I can be. So, I feel good with that.”
Gilchrist said he isn’t worried about trying to find more distance in Creamer’s swing.
“Paula’s not a short hitter,” Gilchrist said. “I don’t think distance is a problem. If you can hit more fairways, you can hit more greens, and if you hit more greens, you can make more putts. It’s that simple.”
Gilchrist said their early work has been focused on setup and alignment.
“Through her entire game, she has a tendency to aim way right and then try to pull everything on line ... It’s all basically setup, and through setup helping her keep the club more in front of her. With her full swing, her right hip was high, so she couldn’t get her left shoulder across. The setup helps her turn better.”
Gilchrist said setup and ball position changes should also help Creamer’s short game.
“By having the ball too far back with a closed stance, her chipping was one dimensional,” Gilchrist said. “She couldn’t really get the ball in the air.
“It’s about trying to build more confidence in her game by simplifying everything, and by working more 30 yards and in around green. If she chips and putts better, she will be a top-five player in world again.”
What does Creamer see as the most significant changes?
“My setup is massive.” Creamer said. “A lot of it came from just the way I was at address. The way I walk into the ball is very different. Putting is very different as well. ... My tendency putting is to shut the clubface, and now it's definitely more on a little bit of an arc. But everything is really setup. My pivot is different. I'm able to keep my height a lot more. It obviously comes and goes, just because this is the first week out here with it, but it's definitely all setup and visualizing things.”
Creamer says she even walks into the ball differently now, and she aligns herself differently.
“I line myself up so much better now,” Creamer said. “The reasons why [caddie] Colin [Cann] would always check me was because I would get so closed, and now we have just totally taken that out. It feels like I'm walking around the world, but it's getting more comfortable.”
For Creamer, ultimately, the objective is getting comfortable on leaderboards again.