Rivalries forming on LPGA Tour
Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer were all smiles as they stood next to each other on stage at luxurious Mar-a-Lago Club and posed for pictures at the LPGA Tour awards reception.
For those expecting fisticuffs, they were too busy holding their trophies.
And for the record, Sorenstam's was bigger.
Sorenstam was player of the year for the fifth consecutive season, winning 10 times and two majors and finishing more than $1 million ahead of Creamer on the money list -- the equivalent of five first-place checks.
"She is just a couple of steps ahead of me," Creamer said at the start of the week.
One can only hope she was kidding, because Sorenstam is miles ahead.
Creamer was rookie of the year by about the same landslide as Sorenstam captured her award. The 19-year-old won two tournaments (the first one a week before she went through high school graduation), set a rookie record with $1.5 million and took charge of a U.S. team that won back the Solheim Cup.
She also laid the groundwork for a rivalry with Sorenstam.
It's one thing for a rookie to say she wants to be No. 1 in the world and will stop at nothing to get there. It's quite another when the rookie calls out the No. 1 player in public while paired with her in the first round of the season-ending ADT Championship, then stops just short of accusing Sorenstam of cheating.
"It's her conscience," Creamer said of a drop Sorenstam was given on the 18th hole.
Translation: If that's what she thinks, fine. But she has to live with herself.
Sorenstam is a heavyweight when it comes to arguing the rules. She got into it with rules official Robert O. Smith last month over line-of-sight relief at Bighorn (she was wrong), and with USGA executive Kendra Graham two years ago in the U.S. Women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge.
In this case, Sorenstam thought her tee shot crossed a sliver of land before plugging into a sandy hazard. Creamer thought it was over water the whole way, and that Sorenstam should have gone back to the tee. Ultimately, rules official Janet Lindsay sided with Sorenstam.
Sorenstam referred to the shape of the flight as a little banana, although one player had a hard time associating the word "banana" with a tee shot hit by Sorenstam, the most accurate player on tour.
Who was right? Who knows?
"Both players saw something different," Lorie Kane said. "I would have to agree ... that the only person who can really see straight down the line is the person who hit the ball. Paula believes what she believes and is a true competitor. It's not that she would want to be in someone's face. She just wants to make sure things are done right."
Told the next day what Creamer said -- "It's her conscience" -- Sorenstam said she was surprised and disappointed, and that maybe they would talk at the awards reception that night.
By then, the "Tussle at the Trump" had taken on a life of its own.
Creamer didn't show up until after LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens started speaking, and those trying to read too much into it had no shortage of ideas. Some thought Creamer purposely arrived late to avoid a confrontation with Sorenstam. Others took note of the black cocktail party dress Creamer wore, which caused heads to turn when she entered through a side door.
Creamer accepted her award, thanked her sponsors, mentioned the excitement on the LPGA Tour and said, "This is only the beginning." Sorenstam went out of her way to congratulate Creamer for her outstanding season, and thanked her sponsors by calling out the names of all nine of them.
Sorenstam, 1 up.
The soap opera brought a chuckle to Kane.
"The media takes hold of things and runs with it," she said. "And that's not a bad thing. That's good chatter."
It can only fuel the increasing attention on the LPGA Tour, where youth is all the rage. Bivens certainly added to the hyperbole last week at the World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony when she referred to Creamer as the most "exciting and compelling rookie" since Nancy Lopez.
"In this society, it's 'What have you done for me lately?"' said Juli Inkster, who won two majors as a rookie and was in the crowd that night at the World Golf Village.
Backstage was Karrie Webb, who was about to be inducted. All she did was win four times as a rookie and capture the money title, becoming the first woman to earn more than $1 million in 1996. Also overlooked was Se Ri Pak, who created a frenzy on the LPGA Tour during her rookie year in 1998 by winning four times, including the LPGA Championship and U.S. Women's Open, and setting the 18-hole scoring record with a 61.
Bivens has been on the job only two months, but she is a quick study. Four days later at Mar-a-Lago, she called Creamer the most exciting, compelling and charismatic rookie "in some time."
"I think we have to be careful," Kane said when asked about the LPGA Tour's emphasis on youth. "As much as we need to embrace youth, we have to embrace where we've come from, and that means the founders right through the Inksters and the other Hall of Famers out here."
Creamer might what to remember her roots.
The next wave of teenagers includes Morgan Pressel, whose explosive personality matches her game. She won the U.S. Women's Amateur and was runner-up at the U.S. Women's Open. Creamer and Pressel have a long, biting history on the AJGA, and it surely will continue.
Stay tuned. The next episode starts in three months.
November 23, 2005
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