Creamer back to work after wedding, honeymoon

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2015, 1:11 am

The adventure careens back to a familiar landscape for Paula Creamer next week with the LPGA season beginning in Ocala, Fla.

You thought that twisting, turning monster of a putt that won her the HSBC Women’s Champions in a playoff in Singapore was a thrilling turn last year for the 10-time LPGA winner? You don’t know the half of it. You should have seen her shooting the whitewater rapids on the Wairoa River in New Zealand a month ago.

The river pushes wildly through narrow, boulder-choked gorges, roaring toward Grade 5 rapids, some of the most harrowing whitewater experiences on the planet.

Apparently, this is Creamer’s idea of “settling down.” After her marriage to Derek Heath before Christmas, the couple whisked away to Bora Bora and then New Zealand on their honeymoon. The whitewater rapids experience was on Creamer’s bucket list of adventures to tackle in life. She wondered exactly why when the raft flipped, catapulting her and Derek into the swirling water.

“We didn’t even get to the Grade 5 rapids,” Creamer said. “We flipped on a Grade 3. Straight under water, under the boat. It was beyond terrifying, but we survived.”

Though they flipped 20 minutes into the trip, Creamer, Heath and their crew got back in their raft and braved on through the Grade 5s on an unforgettable two-hour adventure.

“I’ve checked it off my bucket list, and I won’t be doing it again anytime soon,” Creamer said.

The adventurous side trip on the honeymoon shouldn’t have surprised anyone who follows the couple. Creamer leaped out of an airplane and was skydiving when Heath proposed to her in a most unusual manner a year ago. He had the words “Paula, Marry Me?” arranged on the landing area below.

Creamer and Heath were married on Dec. 13 at Isleworth, where they make their home in Windermere, Fla. Morgan Pressel was the matron of honor with Creamer’s caddie, Colin Cann, serving as her special man of honor. Creamer’s long-time manager, Jay Burton, played Pacelbel ‘s Canon in D on the piano with a cello, flute and violin trio during the ceremony. The couple’s first dance at the reception was to Dara Maclean’s “Yours Forever.”

“It was a perfect day, everything I imagined and more,” Creamer said.

With the honeymoon behind her, with a new chapter unfolding in her life, Creamer, 28, is eager to get back to navigating the rough waters of professional golf.

Last year was full of thrills and spills on the course for Creamer, too. She rode exhilarating highs, and some maddening lows. She won for the first time in almost four years, since her U.S. Women’s Open victory at Oakmont. She did so in dramatic fashion, holing a 75-foot eagle putt to defeat Azahara Munoz in a playoff. It was part of a strong start to 2014. She had that victory and two T-3s among her first four tournaments.

After that sizzling start, Creamer struggled to get into contention the rest of the year, with just one other top-10. Ultimately, she finished 22nd on the money list, her lowest ranking in 10 seasons on tour. She saw her impressive streak of made cuts end at 82 when she missed the cut at Kingsmill. She also missed the cut in a major for the first time as a pro when she didn’t make the weekend at the LPGA Championship. Her iron play, which consistently ranks with the best on tour, wasn’t as sharp. Her first eight seasons, she never finished worse than seventh hitting greens in regulation. She sagged to 51st last year.

All of this led to Creamer slipping to No. 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, her lowest position since the Rolex rankings made their debut in 2006.

All of this highly motivates Creamer, who, obviously, had a lot on her mind with the December wedding.

“I started the year so strong, and I’m incredibly disappointed,” Creamer said. “But, I have to cut myself some slack. That’s hard for me to do, but getting married is a huge part of somebody’s life.”

While preparation for a life-changing event surely affected Creamer, there were swing changes at work, too. Wanting more distance, Creamer and her long-time coach, David Whelan, went to work on changing her swing with the driver. The downswing that long made her iron play so strong was negatively impacting her distance with the driver. They went to work getting her to swing more up on the ball with the driver.

“When you’re trying to improve one area, you can sacrifice another,” Whelan said. “It was always a gamble.”

That’s what happened with Creamer. Her release with the driver is different than her release with her irons.

“It can affect iron play,” Whelan said.

Whelan believes the swings are coming together, where Creamer can get more distance with her driver and still consistently knock down flagsticks with her iron play.

“She understands the separation now,” Whelan said. “She understands what we’re trying to do, and I think she’s back on track.”

Creamer, who is also adopting a new left-hand-low putting stroke, is eager to get the new season started.

“I’m ready,” Creamer said. “Because of the wedding and honeymoon, I’ve had to crunch time these last couple weeks, but I knew that was going to happen. I’ve been working really hard. My days have been longer than they’ve had to be in a normal offseason.”

Creamer went three weeks without touching a club through the wedding and honeymoon. After teeing it up at the Coates Golf Championship next week, she’ll play again the following week at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic. Though she won’t play the Women’s Australian Open to start the first overseas swing, she plans to play a busy early schedule.

If you’re wondering how marriage will affect Creamer, she has strong feelings about it. She believes it will make her a better player. She says Derek’s support is added strength. A former Air Force pilot, he was recently hired to fly for United Airlines. He’s in flight training.

“I do have so much I want to achieve,” Creamer said. “When I got back from the honeymoon, I was so excited. Talking to Derek, coming up with my goals this year, I’m definitely determined.”

Creamer said her goals include focusing on major championships, making this year’s U.S. Solheim Cup team and moving her world ranking back up. She’s also looking ahead to golf’s return to the Olympics in 2016.

She wants to represent the United States at Rio de Janeiro. To assure that, she needs to be among the top two Americans in the world rankings, though she can also make it by ranking among the top 15 in the world, as long as there aren’t four other Americans ahead of her.

“I want to do well in the majors” Creamer said. “That’s what I really want to focus on. When I’ve done that in the past, my game, all in all, is very solid.”

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”