It should come as no surprise to anyone that Paula Creamer whipped the field by five shots to earn her tour card at last weeks LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament in Daytona Beach, Fla. At age 18, shes young and poised. Always sporting her favorite color, pretty in pink, she is. Potent as a pro, she will become.
This is the same Northern California teen who hones her strokes at the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla., a training ground for stars on the rise. And this is the same quiet giant killer who has a classy Chris Evert-like internal drive, staring down bad shots and internalizing any error in a slow burn that dissipates before becoming destructive.
As an amateur, Creamer has already made established professionals look past their prime. She tied for second earlier this year at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. She made every tournament cut in the six LPGA events she played this summer and tied for 13th and low-amateur honors at this years U.S. Womens Open with fellow U.S. Curtis Cup team member Michelle Wie. At the Open, Wie played in the glaring spotlight; Creamer quietly went about her work on the golf course without the same massive galleries that trailed her amateur pal.
By summers end, Creamer would have earned a healthy six-figure salary if only her amateur status would have allowed a payday. But her biggest payoff was satisfaction and self-assurance that the largest decision of her young life was finally the right decision, at last. And while Creamer did not accept her $6,000 prize for besting the field at 11-under-par 349 in the 90-hole marathon, she accepted the knowledge that her game is now ready to erase the a behind her name. She arrived in Daytona as an amateur and departed as the professional she has always aspired to be.
Im not really surprised because I came into this tournament wanting to win, said Creamer, who caught herself and resisted the temptation to dance to Jingle Bell Rock blaring from the P.A. system hiding in the palm trees at LPGA International last Sunday afternoon. Its the end and its a new beginning and Im looking forward to whats going to happen next year.
Creamer used the Futures Tour Qualifying Tournament in early November as a tune-up for LPGA Q-School. She tied for medalist honors at that event with another teen, Brittany Lincicome, topping a whopping field of 277 players.
That helped me a lot because it showed me that I needed to tighten things up and work on my short game, said Creamer.
So, she went back to Bradenton, hunkered down on the practice tee for a month before LPGA Q-School and showed up in Daytona with veteran caddie Colin Cann on her bag. Cann spent several years on the bag of Annika Sorenstam, before taking the job with Se Ri Pak. He worked for Creamer at this years Wendys Championship for Children in one of her sponsors exemptions on the LPGA Tour, then he caddied again for the teen when she tied for fifth at the LPGAs Sectional Qualifying Tournament in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in late September. The two ham-and-egged it around LPGA International for five rounds,with Creamer playing like a combination of Pak in a good year and Sorenstam as the LPGAs dominator.
The best club in her bag is her head, said Cann after the tournament. She has what the best players have. She just makes things happen and she learns so quickly. Most of all, she didnt get caught up in the atmosphere.
That would have been an easy thing to do for Creamer or any teen whose decision between going to work and going to college hung in the balance of how she played five rounds of golf. Never mind that walking in her gallery were her sports psychologist, media consultant, her coach, a pair of agents from a sports management company, father Paul Creamer (a commercial airline pilot) and Duke Butler of the PGA Tour, who once served as the teens coach in an amateur team tournament. There was a certain ka-ching with every swing for the teen, who will command an estimated seven-figure endorsement for her 2005 rookie season. And while other top prospects also had eyes watching and waiting, with endorsements teetering in the balance, only Creamer cruised, making the 90-hole boot camp look like a pleasurable week of Florida winter golf.
This whole year has been geared around the possibility of coming to (the final) LPGA Q-School, said Creamers teacher, David Whelan, Director of Golf at the David Leadbetter Academy. All Ive done with Paula for the last three years is short-term projects leading to the long-term goal.
Whelan compared Creamers desire, ability and work ethic to that of another Leadbetter student, PGA Tour player Paul Casey.
Shes right up there, added Whelan. Ive worked for Leadbetter for 14 years and these kids are all good players, but you obviously sense that some are going to be better than others. Great players draw on stuff to motivate themselves. Paula needs these new challenges. She has learned how to win.
As Creamer, still poised, faced TV cameras and reporters after her final round, father Paul watched his daughter work outside the ropes. He couldnt wipe the smile off his face.
Its like watching her go off on the school bus for the first time, he said. Its a new chapter in her life.
Indeed, it is just starting. And while the teen probably did that little dance she resisted after it was all over, she made a statement both on and off the course last week. She might wear pink and giggle like a teenager outside the ropes, and she might blast the car radio with her coach, playing what he describes as noisy, whatever it is.
But at tournament time, Paula Creamer is all pro. The a behind her name is now history.