The multi-colored ribbons in Paula Creamer's hair speak of a 19-year-old's fashion sense. She giggles like a teenager at blanking on a question.
But she talks golf with the focus of a steely, seasoned pro.
No wonder. Creamer is young everywhere but on the LPGA Tour where she competes against 15- and 17-year-old phenoms at the U.S. Open and finds herself second on the money list just a few months after her high-school graduation.
"My expectations are incredibly high," Creamer said. "I put the most pressure on myself. I'm not normally content with what I do unless I win."
This is typical of the teenagers taking women's golf by storm. Recently departed LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw believes it's a product of the increased emphasis on weight training, equipment advances and the lure of today's larger purses.
"These young women are going through training programs starting at a young age that were unheard of even a generation ago," Votaw said.
Even as David Stern ensured that June's NBA Draft was the last in which 18-year-olds could be selected, the LPGA embraces golfers barely out of junior high.
"These players have brought a lot of attention to our sport," Votaw said.
And a sense of having been there, done that at a just-turned 19 (Creamer's birthday was Aug. 5). Technically a rookie, Creamer racked up five top-20 LPGA finishes as an amateur. It's win now, ribbon or not.
Creamer doesn't look at her two wins and 10 top-10 finishes in 17 LPGA starts as a spectacular rookie year, even though she is second only to the most dominant golfer on the planet, Annika Sorenstam, on the money list.
No, to Creamer it's just the kind of year she expected to have.
She's the Pink Panther, the nickname bestowed on Creamer for her affinity for anything pink (including the grips and shifts of her clubs, an LPGA first). And the Pink Panther's always won, always planned on winning even bigger. She collected 19 national titles as an amateur, urged her parents into moving from California to Florida so she could attend the David Leadbetter Golf Academy.
Creamer isn't surprised she is hoisting trophies. She planned on it.
"I've always looked forward to turning pro," she said. "It was a big decision and everything has gone smoothly. I'm very lucky in the way that I have a great team around me that helps me get to where I have to go and things like that.
"But I enjoy it so much. I mean, this is a blast. I think any other 18-year-old would love it, as well."
A million-plus in the bank ($1,144,948 in pro tournament winnings alone), a new town and a new tournament almost every week, middle-aged men and women asking for your autograph (including several big-shot executives in the pro-am for the Women's World Match Play Championship a few weeks ago in Gladstone, N.J., a shopping spree in Paris to celebrate an Evian Masters win. Yeah, most teenagers could live with that. You think!?
Of course for Creamer and every young female golfer, it's a whole new game in 2005. Creamer isn't being measured by what she's doing or even what anyone else has done before her. Her accomplishments are being examined in the prism of what a 15-year-old golfer is expected to do.
Michelle Wie gets "Late Night With David Letterman," "Good Morning America," the whole mainstream crossover tour and when she turns pro probably her own special line of Nike. Creamer remains rooted in the traditional golf avenues, Golf Digest and the like.
Creamer's gotten more PC at answering questions about Wie lately, most often commenting on how they both like shopping and have plenty in common, but there's little doubt the attention gap bothered her. At the 2003 U.S. Open, when Creamer was still an amateur, she lamented the Wie shadow.
"It gets old," Creamer told reporters. "You look everywhere and there (Wie) is. I play against the best juniors in the world and she's just another junior. I don't place her on a higher plateau."
Wie countered with her own digs at Creamer's status, making everyone sure they knew she wasn't worried about Creamer either.
"I'm not really sure if there's going to be a rivalry or not," Wie said. "I'm not going to think about it."
Sometimes, they can still act like teenagers.
Interestingly, the LPGA itself has chosen to feature these two-year-old quotes in a prominent story on the rivalry on the tour's Web site. It's very apparent, the tour marketers are salivating over the potential fireworks of a Creamer-Wie career duel.
Most golf observers expect Wie to turn pro shortly after her 16th birthday. Until then, Creamer will keep going for the wins she always expected, waiting for the showdowns neither she or Wie can avoid.
Creamer might only get a one-year start on Wie on the LPGA Tour, but it appears to have been a year well spent. She credits LPGA veterans Lorie Kane and Wendy Ward with teaching her how to best utilize a practice round. She jokes around with 20-somethings Cristie Kerr and Natalie Gulbis as peers. She seems to enjoy media attention, talking about everything from her practice routines to her trend of using body glitter.
"Are you saying glitter is not mature?" she bantered in a U.S. Women's Open press conference.
Creamer's definitely comfortable, No. 2 at 19. Wie's still coming, though.
"The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of TravelGolf.com management."
August 26, 2005
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