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LPGA Gets Yet Another Dose of Youth

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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Get ready LPGA, the nation's top-ranked junior amateur is on the way.
 
Paula Creamer, a 16-year-old rising star who trains out of Bradenton, Fla., was given a sponsor's exemption into her first LPGA event, the tour's Asahi Ryokuken at Mount Vintage Plantation from May 8-11.
 
'I don't just want to play, I want to get in the top 10 and, hopefully, be in the hunt on Sunday,' Creamer said by cell phone Friday. 'I think I can do that.'
 
If Creamer handles the pro tour like she has the junior circuit, it'll be no problem.
 
Creamer tied her junior course record of 67 at Sea Pines Ocean Course and won her second Heritage Junior Classic in February -- a feat only accomplished previously by PGA Tour star Charles Howell III.
 
She's had a 69.46 scoring average from October to March. She's been featured on The Golf Channel and '60 Minutes II.'
 
'She's been waiting a while to play' in an LPGA event, said her father, Paul Creamer. 'If she plays well, she'll be in the thick of things Sunday.'
 
No one who's seen Creamer's game doubts her talent. What sets her apart is her heart, says her father.
 
'I don't think they'll be ready for a 16 year old as composed and focused as she is,' Paul Creamer said. 'She's still learning how to play the game. But she's a determined kid.'
 
Creamer and her father said they searched about a month for a pro tournament that fit in with her junior schedule. The Asahi Ryokuken came right before local U.S. Open qualifying. Plus the Creamers were aware that teen sensation Michelle Wie, then only 12, got a sponsor's shot at this tournament last year.
 
Wie missed the cut. She is not returning this year.
 
'I knew they had a history,' Paul Creamer said. 'It's nice to play somewhere I would consider open-minded.'
 
Creamer said she and tournament officials played phone tag most of Monday before she got the news. 'Then I called my father, my coaches, it was really, really exciting,' Creamer said.
 
Creamer knows the butterflies will be there to start. Once she hits the ball, she says she'll settle into her game. 'I know this is going to be an experience,' she said.
 
It's one she's dreamed of since starting the game at age 10.
 
Her typical day begins at the Pendleton School from 7:30 a.m. to noon. She hits the range at David Leadbetter's Golf Academy about 1 p.m., working out whatever problems crop up in her game over the next four hours or so. She'll exercise for about 75 minutes, then return for classes from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m.
 
'I'm completely satisfied,' Creamer said. 'I'm very happy with my golf and where I am.'
 
Paul Creamer says the family does what it can to keep Paula a balanced teenager. He acknowledges the sacrifice. 'But she determines what to give up,' he says. 'If the question is, 'Is she living an absolute normal teenage life?,' I don't think you'll find any top-ranked amateur athlete in any sport who is.'
 
Paula Creamer says it's all part of her goal to be No. 1 on the LPGA Tour someday. And it starts, she says, next month at the Asahi Ryokuken.
 
'Getting in to this proved a point that someone thought I could play,' she said. 'I hope to show that with my game, too.'
 
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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