Paula remains positive
For Paula Creamer, nothing has changed, and everything has changed. Her goal remains to become the premier female golfer on the planet, which she’s aimed for since turning pro in 2005.
With eight victories before the age of 22, the goal seemed within reach.
Over the past two years, however, Creamer, 23, has learned something many in her profession normally don’t discover until their 30s or 40s: She is not invincible. The body breaks down.
First came the mysterious stomach ailment that plagued her for much of 2009. The doctors still don’t know what caused it, but, at least, it has gone away, although she will always be careful. Whenever she leaves the country, Creamer brings her own food.
Then came the problem with her injured left thumb, which became so painful that she fell down and started to cry after hitting a shot on the 16th hole of her first tournament round this year in Thailand. She withdrew and hasn’t played a single round since. After making several attempts at rehab, Creamer finally underwent surgery, the last resort, on March 30.
The painful thumb was doing more than interfering with her golf game. It was interfering with her life.
A month later, the cast is off, but Creamer is a ways from returning to the LPGA Tour. She’s hoping for sometime in June, but it is far from certain. She doesn’t even know when she’ll be able to start hitting balls.
The fortunate thing, if you can call it that, is with the tour’s reduced schedule in 2010, Creamer hasn’t missed as many events as she normally would have, and may still be back in time for the U.S. Women’s Open, July 8-11 at Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh.
If not, Creamer will not be crushed. She knows the news could always be worse.
“Someone could tell me that I’d never play golf again,” Creamer said. “I can’t feel sorry for myself. These are the cards I’ve been dealt.”
The break may actually prove to be a blessing. Because she has not spent any time on the course, Creamer has been able to exercise with more regularity, and intensity, than ever, gaining strength in her lower body.
“I’ve learned to take care of my body,” she said.
She has used the free time to see friends, go to the movies, and put up photos at the home in Orlando she bought three years ago. Creamer has also been learning how to cook.
“I’m trying to stay as busy as I can,” she said.
That doesn’t mean Creamer isn’t as devoted as ever to excelling in the sport she loves. She misses the game so much she would play seven weeks in a row if she could.
“I expect a lot of myself,” she said. “That’s me. That’s how I play golf.”
In 2009, Creamer recorded 10 top 10s in 21 appearances, finishing ninth on the money list, an outstanding season for most players. Not for Creamer. She failed to win.
“I didn’t get it done,” she said.
With last week’s sudden retirement of world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa, coming on the heels of Annika Sorenstam’s departure from the tour in 2008, the time is surely ripe for somebody to emerge as the new dominant player in women’s golf. Creamer, once she regains her health, is on the short list of candidates to be that player. It would give the tour a big boost.
Life begins at 50
Starting Friday, however, at the Mississippi Golf Resort Classic, they will get a chance to launch new careers. That is why, despite the lack of buzz in recent years, the Champions Tour remains such an intriguing enterprise. We have no idea how Clampett and Mudd will perform, and neither do they.
Mudd is a fascinating case. In 1996, he did what no one does in professional golf: He quit. He was only 36. With the money on the table, can you imagine anybody doing that these days?
He shifted his attention to another love, thoroughbred horses, becoming an owner and breeder. After he sold his last mare in 2003, Mudd became involved in the real estate business.
“I just wanted to do some other things in my life,” he said in a press conference on Wednesday.
As for his game, he admits it’s a bit loose these days, and he will need two or three tournaments to see where it stands. He certainly has the credentials, winning four regular events, including the prestigious Players Championship in 1990. He also finished fifth on the money list that year.
The same will probably apply to Clampett, who was a three-time All-American at Brigham Young, and held a five-shot advantage at the halfway mark of the 2002 British Open at Royal Troon before he collapsed on the weekend with rounds of 78 and 77. He won only one tour event, the 1982 Southern Open, before he, too, left competitive golf in the mid-1990s. Since then, Clampett has worked frequently as a commentator for CBS.