Juli Inkster believes in Paula Creamer.
Inkster showed that in an act of faith Monday, naming Creamer one of her two U.S. Solheim Cup captain’s picks. With Creamer slumping of late, Inkster’s choice comes with heightened scrutiny, even with all the success Creamer has had over the years, running up a 12-6-5 record in five Solheim Cups.
Inkster’s faith in Creamer is the kind of heavily weighted tactical choice that might well define her captaincy.
That’s often the way it is when a player with a profile as high as Creamer’s is a captain’s pick. Creamer might have slid to No. 40 in the world rankings this week, but she remains one of the game’s biggest stars, still one of the biggest names in golf.
We’ve been here before, seeing the most scrutinized captain’s picks shape outcomes and career paths almost before competitions begin. These bold choices can go a number of ways.
Back at the Presidents Cup in 2009, Greg Norman chose a struggling Adam Scott as one of his captain’s picks. Norman’s act of faith didn’t produce a victory for his Internationals, but it sparked a resurgence in Scott, paving the way to his ascendance as a major champion and as the world’s No. 1-ranked player.
In the 2009 Solheim Cup, Beth Daniel made rookie Michelle Wie a controversial captain’s pick, taking heat from critics who didn’t think Wie deserved the selection. Wie rose to the occasion. She went 3-0-1 and helped the Americans win at Rich Harvest Farms.
Back at the Ryder Cup in 1995, the outcome wasn’t so favorable for Lanny Wadkins, who made a captain’s pick of Curtis Strange, believing his friend’s leadership and experience would help the Americans despite Strange being six years removed from his last victory. It backfired. Strange went 0-3 and lost a decisive singles match to Nick Faldo with Europe winning the cup by a single point.
There’s no telling how Inkster’s faith in Creamer will play out, whether it’s a decisive choice or not, but Inkster knows there’s going to be extra pressure on Creamer being a pick.
That’s among reasons Inkster and Creamer huddled in a bar/restaurant near Vancouver Golf Club on Saturday night, after Creamer missed the cut at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open.
“Being a captain’s pick, there’s going to be more pressure on her,” Inkster said. “I told her that. I said, ‘You think there was pressure on you trying to make the team? It’s going to be 10 times that over there because you’re a captain’s pick.’ I’ve played as a captain’s pick, and it’s the hardest thing to do. I had to know she would be ready for that. She told me she was ready.”
Creamer told Inkster more than that.
“She has a lot of confidence in herself, and that’s what I wanted to hear,” Inkster said. “When I left, I had an awesome feeling she was ready to go.”
There are 12 Americans Inkster is assigning the task of winning the Solheim Cup. Of course, it isn’t all on Creamer, but her great history in this event, her passion for it, naturally singles her out as a storyline.
That Inkster’s captaincy should be integrally linked to Creamer makes sense.
There has been a bond between these two since Creamer’s first Solheim Cup, when the teenage rookie first teamed with the veteran Inkster as partners helping the Americans win at Crooked Stick 10 years ago.
Fittingly, they won their first match together in 2005 in foursomes, defeating Laura Davies and Maria Hjorth, 3 and 2. It’s fitting because alternate-shot is the ultimate team format, the toughest and truest partnership in team golf.
In foursomes, partners are at the mercy of each other more than any other format. You live with the shot your partner leaves you. But the thing is, the best partners know that sometimes they’re going to leave each other in bad spots, but they trust they’ll take turns bailing each other out.
That’s where Inkster and Creamer are again.
They’re headed to Germany in three weeks trusting that there will be challenges trying to keep Europe from winning the Solheim Cup for a third consecutive event, but they’re going to bail each other out.
“From the moment I heard Juli was going to be the captain, it put a big smile on my face,” Creamer said. “Now to play under her is pretty special.”
Over the last two seasons, Creamer has struggled to reconcile swing changes with equipment changes, specifically the way she used to bend her irons to help her hit higher shots. Her swing changes complicated the nature of the bounce in her new irons. Her confidence waned with the challenges.
“It sounds crazy, but I’m so close to finding it,” Creamer said. “I feel like I’m in a really good place right now.”
Inkster said the rest of the American team strongly wanted Creamer. She said they believe in her, too. Inkster also thinks the match-play format will draw out Creamer’s best instincts.
“I think Paula deserves a chance to play on the Solheim Cup,” Inkster said. “She has earned that spot. It wasn't like she finished 30th on the points. She finished 12th. So it wasn't really going outside the box to grab her.
“I have a ton of confidence in her ... I love where her head's at. I love her. I think she's going to be great over there.”