Pain and Suffering and Victory

By Randall MellJuly 12, 2010, 5:26 am

2010 U.S. Women

OAKMONT, Pa. – When Dr. Thomas Hunt cut open Paula Creamer’s left thumb three-and-a-half months ago, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

Before the surgical procedure, he told Creamer’s parents in his Birmingham, Ala., office that it would take a little more than an hour to tighten up stretched ligaments.

More than three hours later, after reconstructing her thumb, he told Paul and Karen Creamer what they already knew.

He told them their daughter must be one fierce little competitor with a hell of a threshold for pain.

“He asked, `How is it possible that she played golf for seven months with a thumb like that?’” Paul said.

Papa and Mama Creamer knew what the doctor surmised before asking.

It’s the same answer the Creamers will offer if you ask them how it is their daughter won the U.S. Women’s Open Sunday with that reconstructed thumb swelling so profusely that it was straining to break the support tape wrapping it.

Or if you ask them how it is she tamed brutish Oakmont Country Club just seven weeks after she began hitting golf balls in her comeback from the surgery.

“Determination, willpower, refusal to quit,” Paul Creamer says. “That’s the blend with Paula.”

Dr. Hunt could see those qualities when he cut open Creamer’s thumb in late March. He could see them realizing she was playing golf for more than half a year with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, a torn volar plate and a damaged tendon.

Paula Creamer
Creamer withstood Oakmont's challenges to capture her first career major. (Getty Images)

Anyone watching Creamer play the 12th hole Sunday could see what won her this championship.

After hitting her approach into the green there, she hopped off her shot, howling and yelping in pain. It was the first time she let anyone see the pain like that this week.

Her caddie, Colin Cann, said Creamer felt jolts like that more than once in shooting 2-under-par 69 Sunday marching to her 3-under 281 total.

“She’s just used to hiding it well,” he said. “That one there, it really shot up her arm.”

Doctors told Creamer she couldn’t hurt the thumb any worse playing this summer, so she returned to tournament golf four weeks ago. She did so determined to get herself ready for Oakmont knowing her thumb wouldn’t be fully healed yet. She did so because she hated missing the first major of her career in April withdrawing from the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She did so because she desperately wanted to make the U.S. Women’s Open her first major championship triumph.

“I believed I could do this,” Creamer said. “I believed I could do this when I had a cast on my hand. What I just kept thinking about was `Oakmont, Oakmont, Oakmont.’ And here we are. It’s just amazing.”

Creamer, 23, arrived at Oakmont with eight LPGA titles but no majors among them. She was asked about the hole in her resume upon arriving at every major the last four or five years.

“We never have to get asked that question again,” Creamer said.

Creamer won this week with a brilliant all-around game. She showed no weaknesses. She ranked third in fairways hit, eighth in greens in regulation, third in putting and was a respectable 47th in driving distance.

That isn’t what won her the championship, though. Not really. They’re just the byproducts of the willful spirit that won this.

The journey that ended with her hoisting the U.S. Women’s Trophy began long before she stepped foot on Oakmont. There were lessons losing the U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen two years ago and at Saucon Valley last year. A shot off the lead after 54 holes at Interlachen, she closed with a disappointing 78. A stroke off the lead going into the third round at Saucon Valley, she shot herself out of contention with a 79. She put up those scores in the final groups.

There were lessons learned losing, but there were even larger lessons not even playing.

Twenty months ago, Creamer contracted that mysterious stomach malady. She lost more than 10 pounds and endured great angst visiting specialist upon specialist trying to find out what was wrong with her. She never got an answer with the malady plaguing her for almost a year. And with the stomach pains finally leaving her last summer, she hurt her thumb hitting a shot out of the rough at the Wegmans LPGA. For nine months, she couldn’t shake the pain. There was a mystery to that injury with Creamer visiting four hand specialists.

“We explored every possibility,” Paul said. “We left no stone unturned.”

The hand specialists all agreed that she was suffering from stretched ligaments. She was prescribed rest and rehab. So Paula rested and rehabbed, but she couldn’t shake the injury.

The family visited the Louisville Slugger factory to have a special glove made to help her. It didn’t work. They visited the Philadelphia Phillies, where the training staff made special splints for her. Those didn’t work either.

Through it all, the angst of not knowing what was wrong hurt Creamer as much as the pain.

“There was a time before my surgery where I thought, `Oh my gosh, I may never play golf again,” Paula said.

With the thumb pain unrelenting, Paul and Karen saw what nobody else did.

Before the surgery, they saw their daughter’s fear.

“All the doctors had said the same thing,” Paul said. “They said avoid surgery at all costs.

“It was an emotional time. It really was. She put her head on my shoulder one night at home and cried because she didn’t know if she would ever play again.”

The U.S. Women’s Open, more than any other major championship in women’s golf, is about pain and suffering. In the end, nobody was more prepared to endure the punishment Oakmont would dish out than Creamer. Nobody was more determined to overcome it.

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After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 3:40 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the Nelson's future ...

If the goal was “different” by bringing the AT&T Byron Nelson to Trinity Forest, consider it achieved. But bringing a world-class field south of Dallas could still be tricky.

Yes, the tournament can always rely on local resident and AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth to throw his hat in the ring. But even with Spieth strolling the fairways this week, the field strength was among the worst all season for a full-point event.

The debut of the sprawling, links-like layout likely did little to sway the undecideds, with only the third round offering the challenging conditions that course co-designer Ben Crenshaw had envisioned. And the schedule won’t do them any favors next year, as a revamped itinerary likely puts the Nelson right before the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

The course will inevitably get better with age, and Spieth expects positive word of mouth to spread. But it might be a while before the stars truly align for an event that, for the moment, feels lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule. – Will Gray


On Jordan Spieth's putting ...

Jordan Spieth’s putting is plainly bad right now, but it isn’t going to stay this bad forever.

He is the second ranked player on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, just like he was last year. This putting slump has lingered, but it’s unfathomable to think this guy just forgot how to putt.

Sooner rather than later he’s going to remember he’s Jordan Spieth and the 40-footers are going to start pouring in. He’ll be telling Greller to go get the ball because he’s too far away and the tee is in the other direction.

Bottom line, the ball striking is for real and the putting slump will pass. He’ll win soon – maybe even as soon as this week. – Nick Menta


On golf and gambling ...

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court over tuned a federal ban on sports betting in most states, a move the PGA Tour and many professional sports leagues embraced as a tool to both build fan interest and grow revenue.

Experts estimate sports betting could become a $150-$200 billion annual industry, and even a small piece of that could be significant for golf, but there will be risks.

Unlike any other sport, golf is played on multiple fields simultaneously, which inherently creates risks when gambling is introduced to the equation. Although the Tour has gone to great pains to head off any potential problems, like all bets gambling comes with great rewards, and great risks. – Rex Hoggard

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Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Web.com Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

“She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

“I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

“He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

“I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

“It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

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Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

“Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

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Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


“I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

“I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.