LPGA tour receiving a youthful boost
Paula Creamer could have passed for a schoolgirl at a pep rally. Then again, that's what she was.
She sat on the grass with her legs crossed, in the front row, with a red, white and blue ribbon tied around her blonde ponytail and tiny American flags painted on both cheeks. She clapped and cheered when the U.S. team walked by during the Solheim Cup matches in Sweden.
Creamer was at Barseback Golf and Country Club as a member of the Junior Solheim Cup team, and still remembers seeing the fairways lined with fans waving their flags, mostly European blue with a circle of 12 gold stars.
"It was just so unreal to be in that crowd,'' she said.
Even more unreal was where she was Tuesday.
Creamer sat with teammate Natalie Gulbis, poised and confident with glitter on her navy blue Solheim Cup cap and her fingernails painted red, white and blue.
Creamer is a player, not a fan. And the 19-year-old phenom already is the center of attention.
Hours after she became the youngest Solheim Cup player and the first LPGA Tour rookie to make the team, Creamer stood with her teammates -- some of them old enough to be her mother -- and was asked to say a few words.
"All I can say is that they better get ready, because they're going to get beat,'' she said of the Europeans. "I'm laying it down. I'm very confident and I know we have a good team and the best captain that anyone can have.''
There were murmurs behind her, mostly from the older players who realized the headlines that would follow.
Creamer heard them, and didn't back down.
"What are you talking about? You don't want to win?'' she said. "Come on.''
Creamer is one of three rookies on the U.S. team that will try to keep its record perfect on home soil and win back the Solheim Cup from Europe when the matches start Friday at Crooked Stick.
The others are 21-year-old Christina Kim and the 22-year-old Gulbis. They are the youth movement in American women's golf, and they could not have arrived at a better time.
It was only five years ago, when the United States lost at Loch Lomond, that Juli Inkster considered what the future held and didn't like what she saw. International players were dominating the game. The American stars were approaching 40, if they weren't already there.
"I was like, 'Who's going to play?' There was no one out there,'' the 45-year-old Inkster said. "I'm quite pleased we have some good, young players that can carry on that tradition. Younger players are stepping up. It used to be younger meant you were 25 or 26. Now it's 18 and 19.''
And more might be on the way.
Creamer saw the Junior Solheim Cup team getting ready for its match Tuesday. Among them was 17-year-old Morgan Pressel, the U.S. Amateur champ and runner-up in the U.S. Women's Open who also tied for fifth last week in the State Farm Classic. Over in Hawaii, 15-year-old Michelle Wie was contemplating turning pro.
Their time may come soon.
Right now, the focus falls on Creamer, who is enjoying the best rookie season by an American woman since 1984, when Inkster won two major championships.
Creamer won the Sybase Classic outside New York in May, then went home to Florida to go through high school graduation ceremonies. She didn't capture a major, but it felt like one when she beat one of the strongest fields of the year at the Evian Masters in France by eight shots.
She is third on the LPGA Tour money list with over $1.2 million, already a record for a rookie. Clearly, she has come a long way from being a cheerleader in Sweden.
"When I was sitting on the greens watching them, it was more like, 'Wow, hopefully someday, that's where I want to be,''' Creamer said. "Things have happened so fast, and I'm having so much fun and achieving some of my dreams and goals. And to finally get here, it's unreal.''
Pressure is usually a constant companion at the Solheim, especially for rookies.
Creamer didn't do herself any favors with her "they're going to get beat'' comment about Europe. Some of the Europeans no doubt want to make her eat her words. And the brash talk only polished her star quality, so the American gallery is sure to have high expectations of Creamer.
"I like what she said. She's a rookie,'' Laura Davies of England said. "She's a top-quality player and she'll only get better. Why shouldn't she be confident? That's good. We're probably not going to say it because there's going to be 20,000 Americans screaming us down all week.''
And they'll be screaming for Creamer.
She wasn't about to back down.
"It's hard to take something back like that when I look at my team,'' Creamer said. "I put the most pressure on myself. I'm very hard on myself. I expect perfection out there, and I'm going to go out and play good golf.''
Creamer and the other youngsters -- Cristie Kerr, 27, is playing in her third Solheim Cup and led the American points list this year -- might be the key to winning the cup. They are having a blast, and it can be infectious.
Led by Creamer, they offer a bright future for American golf, something Inkster, Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel might not have seen five years ago.
"She's riding a lot of confidence,'' Mallon said. "She doesn't know anything but success.''
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