When Paula Creamer was 11 years old, her parents took her to Olympic Club for the third round of the 1998 U.S. Open. Her fondest memories weren’t just the big grandstands or star players but also the large umbrella she got from the merchandise tent, one with a big American flag, stars and the club’s iconic logo on it.
“This umbrella was like bigger than I was,” Creamer recalled, “but I think we actually ended up having to throw it away a couple years ago because it was not looking so good anymore.”
She’ll get a chance to replace it next month after the USGA announced Monday that it had extended Creamer a special exemption to play in the 76th U.S. Women’s Open, which will be contested June 3-6 at the famed San Francisco club.
The 34-year-old Creamer hasn’t played on the LPGA since October 2019 as she’s battled wrist and hand issues, though the Pleasanton, California, native will play the Pure Silk Championship at Kingsmill two weeks before her USWO start. The 2010 U.S. Women’s Open champion at Oakmont missed last winter’s national championship in Houston, the last year of her 10-year exemption.
“I really want to give a huge thank you to the USGA for allowing me to play this year,” Creamer said Monday on a conference call with reporters. “You know, it was very difficult not being able to go and play last year in the Open, and I was pretty bummed about it, so to be able to have this exemption for me and to come in and play, it means the world, especially in the Bay Area.”
Creamer, who now lives in Orlando, Florida, owns five top-10 finishes among 11 top-20 finishes in 17 career USWO starts, but she also hasn’t made a cut since 2016. The next year she had wrist surgery and hasn’t been the same since.
“After that surgery, I just came back too soon, and I felt OK,” she said, “but I pushed it too hard, and that was a mistake that I will have to live with for the rest of my life, and looking at it on my career, it wasn't the best of moves that I did. But I'm a fighter, I'm a grinder, and I didn't want to sit out. When this happened, I just really had to sit there and kind of sit on my hands and tell myself, ‘OK, we're not doing this this time.’”
Creamer initially planned to return last spring, but after the pandemic halted the LPGA calendar, she decided to wait a little longer. She recently returned to her old instructor of 12 years, David Whelan, and currently splits her practice between Bradenton, where Whelan is based, and Creamer’s home at Isleworth, where she lives a chip away from the range.
“We sat down and he asked me, ‘What are your goals? What do you want to do?’” Creamer said. “And I was honest with him and told him I obviously want to get back in the winner's circle, but I want to be consistent.”
Consistency is possible because for the first time in a long time Creamer doesn’t feel any pain. She and Whelan have improved her grip and swing plane, and she’s added more speed back. Now, it’s just a matter of putting it all in play.
“I miss it,” Creamer said of the competition. “I love playing golf. Playing golf when you're playing bad is very hard to do, but it's still – I love the game. Right now, this is just a challenge for me to overcome everything that I've had to go through, and it challenged my mental game, too. I have to realize that my expectations are not going to be as high as they used to be; not right now. I haven't played in tournaments. I have to be a little bit more easier on myself, which I've never been able to do before, so it's all kind of a new beginning.
“But honestly even when I wasn't playing I was always thinking about it. I was always, should I go hit balls tomorrow, should I do this, constantly doing that. But I'm thankful for it because every time I step out the door and put my golf shoes on, I enjoy it. I really am loving what I do right now.”