OAKMONT, Pa. – If this U.S. Women’s Open is going to be about who can endure the most pain and suffering, Paula Creamer is going to be tough to beat.
She’s got the scars a winner might need to prevail at Oakmont Country Club.
There have been lessons in more than a year of physical misery.
There have been lessons in emotional misery falling short and hard in this championship.
Creamer’s caddie sees how uniquely prepared Creamer may be to take whatever punishment Oakmont’s going to dish out this week.
“It may be that all she’s gone through is a blessing in disguise,” says Colin Cann.
Cann could see hard lessons paying dividends in Creamer’s march onto the leaderboard Thursday in the first round at Oakmont. Creamer got herself in position to make an early run at winning her first major championship with a 1-over-par 72.
“She’s showing patience, acceptance of what you get,” Cann said. “She’s learned a lot.”
At 23, Creamer would like to show this week that she’s learned how to win a major. She’s the best player in women’s golf without a major. Her eight LPGA titles stand as testament to that.
“I’ve always loved playing in the U.S. Women’s Open,” Creamer said. “I’ve always wanted to do well, to be in contention. That just motivates me.”
“This golf course, you have to be precise. You have to strike the ball well. Those are my strengths.”
Still, Creamer couldn’t be considered a favorite coming here this week. She underwent reconstruction of ligaments in her left thumb three months ago. She’s only been hitting balls for seven weeks. She’s playing in just her fourth event since returning from surgery and missed the cut last week at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic in Toledo.
Before the thumb injury, there was that mysterious stomach ailment that plagued her for more than a year.
Creamer hasn’t won an LPGA title in 20 months.
Still, Cann sees life outside golf teaching Creamer lessons that are helping her game. She’s learned lessons being denied the chance to do what she loves.
“Paula’s had to show so much patience through all this,” Cann said. “She’s found things she’s thought were going to help her come back, and then had her hopes dashed. She’s gotten her hopes up again and dashed again.”
That could also describe Creamer’s U.S. Women’s Open experiences.
Last year, Creamer entered the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open a shot behind Cristie Kerr. She was off in the last pairing Saturday at Saucon Valley believing it might finally be her time to claim a major. Making the turn to the back nine, her hopes were dashed at the 10th hole, a short par 4 she was seduced into trying to drive. She ended up in a mean greenside bunker, skulled a shot into the woods and made triple bogey 7. She shot herself out of contention with a 79.
Two years ago, Creamer was in contention to win the U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen. In the final Sunday pairing, a shot behind the leader, Stacy Lewis, Creamer closed with a 78.
Creamer has tied for sixth in her last two U.S. Women’s Opens. She’s had eight top-10 finishes in 24 starts in majors.
“Paula’s learned lot in the U.S. Open,” Cann said. “She’s learned you can’t be too aggressive. You can be aggressive at times, but you have to be patient.”
Creamer showed something at the 17th hole Thursday, the short par 4 measuring 255 yards. Though fellow competitors Angela Stanford and Suzann Pettersen both hit drivers trying to reach the green, Creamer laid up with an iron. She made par.
With consistent ball striking, Creamer hit 10 fairways Thursday and 14 greens. Her only three putt came at her final hole.
And despite a bogey-bogey finish, Creamer didn’t lament wanting more.
“It’s unfortunate,” Creamer said of the finish. “It’s not what you want, but you have to look at the overall picture.”
After signing her scorecard, Creamer slapped a bag of ice on her left thumb. She ices it four or five times a day. She said it was more swollen than normal.
“Everything swells up [in the heat],” she said. “It’s double what it normally is.”
But Creamer found an advantage in the pain.
“It distracts you,” she said.
If she wins this week, credit her scars with an assist.