For Paula Creamer, enduring the pain pays off at U.S. Women's Open

Paula Creamer was the only competitor under par.
Paula Creamer was the only competitor under par. (Sam Greenwood - Getty Images)
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By Leonard Shapiro
Monday, July 12, 2010

OAKMONT, PA. -- Paula Creamer came to the Pittsburgh suburbs earlier in the week not knowing how her surgically repaired thumb would react to the rigors of a brutish golf course and the mind-numbing pressure of a U.S. Women's Open.

After four grueling days at onerous Oakmont, including high heat, rain delays, near six-hour rounds and maddeningly quick greens, Creamer found out she had all the right stuff to survive and thrive, prevailing by four shots Sunday to win the first major championship of her career with the only below par score of the week, a 3-under-par 281 and a final-round 69.

With a throbbing thumb that made any shot off turf or sand an exercise in pain management, Creamer fended off any and all challenges with a magical back nine ball-striking performance, even if she more than occasionally had to wince in pain coming from her heavily taped left thumb.

"It's incredible," said Creamer, who said she never looked at a leader board until she got to the 18th hole. "It was my goal to play the golf course. If someone played awesome and beat me, so be it . . . It's a great, great achievement, and hopefully I can go on to win many, many more."

Creamer's mantra all week was the notion that par was her friend on a demanding golf course, even if her surgically repaired left thumb was still not healed from a March 30 operation to repair torn tendons. She missed six weeks of the LPGA Tour season and was playing this week in her fourth straight event, including a missed cut just a week ago in Toledo.

Until Creamer arrived Monday, she had not even been permitted to hit golf balls off the ground on the practice range, using a tee to avoid aggravating the injury any further.

She was limited to 40 warmup shots a day throughout the week, and had to play 28 holes on Saturday, and 23 on Sunday, including the final five holes of her third round that started at 8 a.m.

On her last Sunday morning third-round hole, Creamer made a five-foot birdie putt at the 18th to get to 1-under 212 over her first 54 holes, and held a three-shot advantage over Wendy Ward, her partner in the final group. Ward made a triple bogey when she left a shot in a fairway bunker at the first hole of the last round and was never again a factor.

Alexis Thompson, the South Florida 15-year-old who started the last round five shots off the lead, yanked her opening drive at the first hole dead left and into a precarious position in the ninth hole rough and made double bogey.

She never recovered on a day when she posted a 73 and tied for 10th place at 6-over 290, her best finish in her four Open appearances.

The major challenge came from the winner of last week's event in Toledo, South Korea's Na Yeon Choi.

She eagled the 457-yard par-5 ninth hole with a six-foot putt that moved her to five-under on her front nine 31, a shot better than Johnny Miller's 32 on the same side when he shot 63 in the final round to win the 1973 U.S. Open at this same venue.

That cut Creamer's lead to only two shots, but Choi could not sustain that early excellence, and had to settle for a tie for second place with Norway's Suzann Pettersen, who sank a 25-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole. Choi posted a round of 66 and Pettersen had a 69 that also included three misses of four-foot putts for birdie or eagle on the front nine that will give her nightmares for weeks.

Cristie Kerr, the No. 1 player in the world, never got into the mix and finished tied for 17th with a pair of weekend 75s. But she also had kind words for Creamer, clearly the best player in the women's game without a major title before this week, even if she had won eight times on the LPGA Tour and is among the most recognizable players in the game thanks to her preference for all things pink--clothes, caps, shoes, grips, clubhead covers.

"I think it will be a very popular win," Kerr said. "It's great to see another American win. I think we can finally all stop answering when are the Americans going to come up to the challenge, because winning the last two majors [including her own victory at the LPGA Championship two weeks ago] is pretty impressive."

Creamer was thrilled never to have to "answer the question that's always invoked--'why have you never won a major championship.' I'll never have to answer that again."

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