ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – American Paula Creamer and European Caroline Hedwall made reputations thriving in the Solheim Cup, but they know recent struggles raise questions about how they will respond this week to the most intense spotlight in women’s golf.
Will Solheim Cup pressure draw out the best in them?
Or will it widen cracks in their armor?
Creamer is 12-6-5 in five Solheim Cups. She has put up more points in this competition than any other American here this week, but she enters having missed her last four cuts in a row. She enters having slid to No. 48 in the Rolex world rankings, the lowest ranking of her 11-year career.
Hedwall won all five matches she played helping the Europeans rout the Americans two years ago in Colorado, becoming the first player in Solheim Cup history to go 5-0. She also was a vital part of the European victory in Ireland four years ago, when she turned around her match to claim an integral half point late in the Euros’ dramatic comeback.
She hasn't done much since Colorado, though.
Creamer, 29, knows there are doubts to slay this week, but she says she’s relishing the challenge.
“This week is so much fun for me,” Creamer said. “I love having partners. I love match play. It’s that format that brings out the fighter, that grinder that I have inside me. Getting here, wearing these colors, it’s motivating. There’s nothing better than that.”
Hedwall, 26, faces similar scrutiny heading into Friday’s start of the matches at St. Leon-Rot Golf Club.
“I’m not scared of the nervous feeling,” Hedwall said. “I really enjoy it, and I think that's the challenge.”
American Stacy Lewis, a two-time major championship winner, was asked this week how Solheim Cup pressure differs from anything else in golf.
“I think it's like playing the 18th hole of a major over and over again,” Lewis said. “That's the kind of pressure you feel on every single shot, on every single hole.”
American and European golf fans will be tuning in to see how Solheim Cup stars like Creamer and Hedwall react.
“I feel the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Creamer said. “No matter what, I’m not going out and putting extra pressure on myself.”
U.S. captain Juli Inkster showed a lot of confidence in Creamer making her one of her two captain’s picks. She showed even more confidence in her on Thursday when she announced she was sending Creamer out in her leadoff match in foursomes for the start of the Solheim Cup. She’s teaming Creamer with Morgan Pressel Friday morning against what may be Europe’s strongest team, Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and Sweden's Anna Nordqvist.
“I have faith in Paula,” Inkster said. “I have all the confidence in the world in her. It was a no-brainer for me.”
Foursomes is the toughest and truest team format because it’s alternate shot. There’s more pressure in those matches because a player’s wayward shot can put her partner in bad spots.
Creamer and Pressel are best friends. They’ve partnered together in the Solheim Cup twice before and haven’t been beaten (1-0-1), but they’ve never played foursomes together in this event.
“I watched Paula practice for three days,” Inkster said. “She’s hitting it great. She’s excited. I wanted to get her out there and get her feet wet, so to speak.”
Cristie Kerr has played practice rounds with Creamer all week and likes what she’s seeing.
“Paula loves this event,” Kerr said. “She just loves playing for her country. She rises to the occasion, and you’ll see that. I’ve never seen her make so many putts in practice and hit so many hybrids close to the hole. It was pretty amazing. I’m excited to see how she plays.”
Creamer has won 10 LPGA titles in her career. She won her last at year’s start in 2014, taking the HSBC Champions in a playoff, but she still slipped to 22nd on the LPGA’s money list at year’s end, the lowest finish of her career. Always one of the game’s best iron players, Creamer’s struggles are evident in her stats. She finished 51st in hitting greens in regulation last year. She led the LPGA in GIR in ’09 and never finished worse than seventh in that category in her first eight years on tour. She’s 69th in GIR this year.
“It’s really the first time in her career that she’s gone through a tough stretch,” Kerr said. “I think it’s humbling. Given the opportunity to shine here, I think she’ll do it.”
Creamer’s struggles date back to her attempt to find more distance three seasons ago, when she tried to change her swing with her driver, to get more of an upward, sweeping motion. She also struggled through some equipment issues while making swing changes, where her affinity for bending her irons to get more loft affected the bounce on them.
“I think Paula will rise to the occasion,” Lewis said. “I think all players, even great players, have bad streaks, good streaks, ups and downs, it happens. I think she'll rise to the occasion and she'll be just fine.”
Hedwall, 26, faces similar challenges finding form in a Solheim Cup. In the victory at Colorado Golf Club two years ago, European captain Liselotte Neumann called Hedwall one of her “Swedish Vikings.” Hedwall has played nine Solheim Cup matches and been beaten just once. She’s 7-1-1, but she’s also coming into this week having missed the cut in five of her last seven starts worldwide.
Riding that Solheim Cup boost late in 2013, Hedwall rose to No. 22 in the world. She has slid to No. 117.
“I'm hitting the ball really well, but I just haven't putted that well,” Hedwall said. “It kind of was the same situation when I came into Solheim in 2013. I didn't make many putts and all of a sudden it all worked. I'm kind of hoping for some magic this week, too.”
European captain Carin Koch believes match play will spark some fire in Hedwall this week. Unlike Inkster, however, Koch left Hedwall out of Friday’s opening session.
“Caroline is quite spectacular, usually, when it comes to match play,” Koch said. “And the times I watched her play this year, she was hitting the ball very well. So I'm not too worried. I think she can take care of herself. But it will be exciting to see what she can do this week."
For better or worse, Creamer and Hedwall both promise to be storylines given what they’ve meant to the Solheim Cup.