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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What's in the Bag: CJ Cup winner Koepka

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 23, 2018, 12:50 am

Brooks Koepka closed strong to win the CJ Cup in South Korea, and he also took over the No. 1 ranking. Here's a look inside his bag.

Driver: TaylorMade M3 (9.5 degrees)

Fairway Woods: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees)

Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3); Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 Raw (52, 56 degrees), SM7 Raw TVD (60 degrees)

Putter: Scotty Cameron T10 Select Newport 2 prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Monday Scramble: Who's No. 1 ... in the long run?

By Ryan LavnerOctober 22, 2018, 4:00 pm

Brooks Koepka becomes golf’s new king, Sergio Garcia enjoys the Ryder Cup bump, Danielle Kang overcomes the demons, Michelle Wie goes under the knife and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Brooks Koepka added an exclamation point to his breakout year.

His red-hot finish at the CJ Cup not only earned him a third title in 2018, but with the victory he leapfrogged Dustin Johnson to become the top-ranked player in the world for the first time.

That top spot could become a revolving door over the next few months, with Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose all vying for No. 1, but it’s a fitting coda to Koepka’s stellar year that included two more majors and Player of the Year honors.

For a player whose team searches long and hard for slights, there’s no questioning now his place in the game.

1. DJ won three events this season, but he wasn’t able to create much separation between him and the rest of the world’s best players.

Koepka’s rise to No. 1 made him the fourth player to reach the top spot this year, and the third in the past month.

Who has the greatest potential to get to No. 1 and stay there? Johnson is the best bet in the short term, but he’s also 34. Koepka will be a threat in the majors as long as he stays healthy. So the belief here is that it’ll be Justin Thomas, who is 25, without weakness and, best of all, hungry for more success.  

2. Koepka had an eventful final round at the CJ Cup. Staked to a four-shot lead in the final round, his advantage was trimmed to one after a sloppy start, then he poured it on late with an inward 29. He punctuated his historic victory with an eagle on the 72nd hole, smirking as it tumbled into the cup.

It was his fifth career Tour title – but only his second non-major. Weird.

3. How appropriate that golf’s most underappreciated talent – at least in his estimation – became world No. 1 in a limited-field event that finished at 2 a.m. on the East Coast. Somehow he’ll spin this into being overlooked, again.

4. Sergio Garcia carried all of that Ryder Cup momentum into the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where he earned the hat trick by capturing his third consecutive title there.

While the rest of the world’s best gathered in Korea or rested for global golf’s finishing kick, Garcia won the weather-delayed event by four shots over Shane Lowry. Garcia’s foundation hosts the tournament, and he extended his crazy-good record there: In 14 career appearances at Valderrama, he has three wins, seven top-3s, nine top-5s and 13 top-10s.

Garcia, who went 3-1 at the recent Ryder Cup, became the first player since Ernie Els (2004) to win the same European Tour event three years in a row.

5. Gary Woodland probably doesn’t want 2018 to end.

He was the runner-up at the CJ Cup, his second consecutive top-5 to start the season. He made 11(!) birdies in the final round and now is a combined 37 under par for the first two starts of the new season.

6. This definitely wasn’t the Ryder Cup.

Four shots back, and the closest pursuer to Koepka, Ian Poulter had a chance to put pressure on the leader in the final round. Instead, he was left in the dust, mustering only three birdies and getting waxed by seven shots (64-71) on the last day. Poulter tumbled all the way into a tie for 10th.

7. It hasn’t been the easiest road for Danielle Kang since she won the 2017 Women’s PGA.

The 26-year-old said she’s dealt with anxiety for months and has battled both putting and full-swing yips. Her problems were so deep that a week ago, she stood over the ball for four minutes and couldn’t pull the trigger.

No wonder she said that she was “pretty stunned” to hold off a bevy of challengers to win her second career title at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

“I’m finally at a place where I’m peaceful and happy with my game, with my life,” she said.

8. In the middle of the seven-way tie for second in China was Ariya Jutanugarn, who will return to No. 1 in the world for the second time this season.

9. Also in that logjam was another former top-ranked player, Lydia Ko, who had tumbled all the way to 17th. Ko hasn’t been able to build off of her slump-busting victory earlier this summer, but she now has six consecutive top-16 finishes and at least seems more comfortable in her new position.

“Sometimes you get too carried away about the awards and rankings,” she said. “It just becomes so much. I think it’s more important to keep putting myself there and … shooting in the 60s, and that way I think it builds the confidence and the rankings kind of sort itself out.”

Here's how Tiger Woods explained his pitiful performance at the Ryder Cup: “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf.”

Of course, he looked just fine a week earlier at East Lake, where he snapped a five-year winless drought with one of the most memorable weeks of his legendary career. His training wasn’t a topic of conversation there.

It's reasonable to expect that the emotional victory took a lot of out of him, but if he was so gassed, why did he sit only one team session and go 36 on Saturday? By Sunday night, Woods looked like he was running on empty, so either he wasn't upfront with captain Jim Furyk about his energy levels, or Furyk ran him out there anyway.

This week's award winners ...  

Can’t Catch a Break: Michelle Wie. The star-crossed talent announced that she’ll miss the rest of the season to undergo surgery to repair a troublesome hand injury. Maybe one of these years she’ll be able to play a full schedule, without physical setbacks.  

Grab the Mic: Paul Azinger. Taking Johnny Miller’s seat in the booth, Azinger will call all four days of action at every Golf Channel/NBC event, beginning at the WGC-Mexico Championship. He was the most logical (and best) choice to follow the inimitable Miller.

Take That, Dawdler: Corey Pavin. It was Pavin – and not the notoriously slow Bernhard Langer – who earned the first slow-play penalty on the PGA Tour Champions in what seemed like ages. The one-shot penalty dropped him to 15th in the event.

Long Time Coming: Jason Day. His tie for fifth at the CJ Cup was his best finish worldwide since … The Players? Really. Wow.

The Tumble Continues: Jordan Spieth. In the latest world rankings, Spieth is officially out of the top 10 for the first time since November 2014. A reminder that he finished last year at No. 2.

Clutch Performances: Andalucia Masters. Both Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Richie Ramsay both moved inside the top 116 in the Race to Dubai standings, securing their European Tour cards for next season. Gonzo tied for fifth in the regular-season finale, while Ramsay was joint 11th.

That’s Messed Up: CJ Cup purse. As colleague Will Gray noted, the purse for the 78-man event was $9.5 million – or $400K more than the first 15 events of the Tour schedule combined. The difference between the haves and have-nots has never been larger.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. The defending champion never could get started in Korea, closing with his low round of the week, a 4-under 68, just to salvage a tie for 36th. Sigh.  

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."