Paula Creamer: Miracles Do Happen After All

If you haven’t seen Paula Creamer’s 75-foot winning eagle putt against Azahara Munoz to win the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, take two minutes to see, not just the putt, but the back story, pageantry and emotion of it all:

With Azahara with a close-in birdie putt and Paula with a three-year winning drought, it couldn’t have come at a better time for her.

I could stand there all day long and hit a putt there, and charting it, it was saying five, six feet, and you know, it hit the back of the hole and went in.  I really didn’t even watch the last four feet of it.  I was just hoping it would slowdown when it was near the hole and then it disappeared. 

It’s funny.  I looked at Colin [her caddie], he said this has been coming, you’ve been working so hard, and things haven’t gone your way in certain situations and finally kind of had a bit of luck with that one, and it did and it went in.  I seriously cannot tell you the way I felt.  It was like somebody just knocked the wind out of me.  It was pretty amazing.

And it looked like somebody knocked the wind out of her. After she went to her knees on the edge of the green, when she looked up, it was hard to tell if she was laughing or crying with joy. We see these great, stoic players plying their trade week after week, but when we see an emotional reaction like this, we get some sense of just how much these things mean.

Yeah, and my friends were next to number 9, and Morgan [Pressell] was there in front of my best friends and Brittany [Lang] and Cristie [Kerr] and Irene [Cho], they are all just standing over there.  I literally looked right at them, because as a golfer, you know, things happen for reasons, and when it went in, it’s so neat to have your friends there, and of course Colin, he was just shaking his head.

But all of this came at a price: a lot of hard work, determination and committment:

You know, I played well on the weekend.  I didn’t play that well on Friday, and was working with my coach, David Whelan, sending videos back and forth every day and trying to get some good swing thoughts. [Whelan is the Director of Instruction at the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Florida. For a terrific pictorial tutorial of Whelan working with Paula, go here.]

We found one Friday afternoon when I woke up Saturday morning with the time change and it really helped.  David knows my golf swing better than I do for sure, and with what he said, just kind of clicked.

Sometimes, when you ask a Tour pro what they’re working on, they don’t want to reveal their “secret.” They think it reveals a weakness in themselves or perhaps that it will kindle an idea for a player who “doesn’t have it yet.”  They miss the part about how hard it is to integrate any swing thought let alone an idea floated into the ether. Or they’ll give you an oblique answer that has enough meat in it so that you’ll be grateful for the answer. Paula unselfconsciously gave up the goods:

Well, I lose my height a little bit in my golf swing.  It’s actually at the takeaway.  So been really working on keeping my height and I get a little bit long, I get a little bit too long on my backswing to shorten and tighten everything up and basically to just trust the release with my hands.

For so many years because of my thumb I’ve been coming across it and coming this way and my right shoulder goes forward.  Basically we’ve been really working on my right shoulder going down instead of towards the ball.  He just said those key words, keep your right shoulder down and let it go, and don’t hold onto it too tight.

So with that comforting reminder in her mind, she was free to work on the “touch” part of her game, the short game:

Worked really hard on practicing with the greens and the speed.  I practiced a lot after every round, and you know, I played well in the front, I had some looks, for sure.  You know, made a ton of par saves coming down the stretch.  Made it a little bit more difficult than what I needed.

It was unfortunate with [Karrie Webb] on the last hole hitting the lip of the bunker [to bogey the hole], because she would have been right in the mix in the playoff too.

As for Karrie Webb, she was a little dazed by her decision making on the back nine and particularly on 18 when she hit driver to go for it in two rather than laying up with a 3-wood off the tee:

I’m a bit in my head right now.  There’s a lot going on.  Just not a lot of good decisions.  I mean, bad swing on 15 but — just bad decisions.

I shouldn’t have probably hit 3-wood off 16 just because I missed with that club for some reason this week.  I’ve had that club in my bag for ten years and it’s going left, so might need to look at a different 3-wood I think.  Just shouldn’t have hit 3-wood off there but I made a good par.

We got put on the clock on 17, which doesn’t help when your mind’s already going pretty quickly.

With the wind into us on 18, I just should never have hit driver off that tee.  I had said to Mickey, if I can’t reach [the green with] a 5-wood, there’s no point in going, and I don’t think I could have hit it far enough down there in that situation.  So I’m not sure why I let Mickey talk me into hitting driver there.  I should have just laid up off the tee [and second shot] and given myself a wedge in, but I didn’t do that and so not a lot of good decisions.

I hit a great drive down 18 yesterday from the front tee, and part of me felt like I could do that, and if had pulled it off, it wouldn’t have even — but my gut feeling was just to lay up off the tee.

She was upset when she laid all this out, but the truth is that you decide what you decide. So do what you decided and take what you get, no regrets. You can certainly chose to learn from decisions that don’t work out, but making yourself wrong about it isn’t a healthy thing for your sense of yourself. A healthy, forgiving sense of yourself is the most important thing you can have in golf.

Paula talked around the edges of that idea when she discussed how happy she is in her personal life — she’s engaged to an Air Force pilot — and how that’s contributed to her game:

Well, it has everything to do with it.  I just am in such a good place.  I am blessed with what I have.  I’m blessed with what I’ve been given.  It’s a lot of hard work.  Like I said, there’s a lot of up-and-downs, but Derek [Heath, her fiancé] just makes me so happy and makes me want to be better out here.  He just motivates me.  Not that I need that, but it’s nice when it comes from other people and your team around you.

It all comes down to believing in yourself; if you don’t, then nobody else will.  They have just really kind of opened my eyes and said, you know, it’s not going to be like this forever.

There’s low times that I’ve had; they have been difficult.  I’ve had a lot of high expectations and to have met my match and to have met the man of my dreams, basically, you can’t take anything away from that.  There’s 100 percent reason why I’m sitting here today the way that I am.  He just makes me happier and makes me — allows me to play better golf.

The other reason she’s so happy now is that the two years after her 2010 U.S. Open win were a pretty significant emotional trough:

It was the hardest three years — it’s been — the last, maybe not last year, but probably from two years after the U.S. Open win, and then that following year, so that would be 2012, basically, I just was struggling. I was enjoying what I was doing but I wasn’t loving it.  It was hard.  My thumb hurt.  My arm hurt.  I was coming off of surgery and he told me to take a year, and I didn’t believe him.

In reality, they were 150 percent right and what do I know, I’m just a golfer.  My expectations were way too high.  I did.  I got in my own way for a little bit.  And it has, it’s been very difficult.

I know my potential and I know how hard I work, and you can’t control anybody else but I wasn’t living up to my own expectations, not what everybody else said, not what people thought I should do.  I just wasn’t living up to my own, and it was tough.  I had to kind of go through it, but like I said, sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward.

And so now our favorite “Girl Next Door” on the LPGA has restored order to the land and all is right with the world. The last thing on the list was this tournament win. So now she has everything she was supposed to have and she can go happily down the road to what’s in store for her next. There’s a lot of freedom in that.

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