Paula Creamer doesn't care what you think of her outfits. Just her golf. Column: At Interlachen, Paula Creamer knows only U.S. Women's Open win equals real stardom

EDINA, Minn. - It doesn't hurt when Paula Creamer shows up on the first tee wearing the tightest pair of white pants you've seen this side of a Cancun nightclub.

"I never felt this way watching Tiger Woods," a college-aged guy cracks as the fourth-ranked women's golfer in the world walks by.

Well, duh.

Oh wait, no one's supposed to say that, right? All those tisk masters out there demand that everyone ignore the obvious when it comes to women's professional sports, the undeniable truth that being good is good, but being sexy and good brings it up to a whole other priceless level.

Creamer understands this. She knows what she's doing when she selects tennis-short tan and red skirts for the round one and round two respectively and those snug white pants for round three (hey, many female golf fans can probably tell you what Camilo Villegas has worn in successive rounds too). What Creamer is doing is raising her profile, potentially increasing her endorsement opportunities and helping her tour.

In the year 2008, there are still many more men who follow professional sports than women. Martha Burk couldn't even debate this. It's impossible to miss even at Interlachen Country Club during the U.S. Women's Open. Even here, with the United States Golf Association doing everything but pick up kids on street corners and bus them in (free admission with an adult, free lunch and a free hat in a great nod toward growing the game), you see more men with gray hair than anything in the galleries.

And just like at your local mall, the old guys tend to be the biggest, most blatantly obvious leerers too.

You don't think Paula Creamer is aware of this?

Please. This 21-year-old is a savvy student of the YouTube/Facebook age. She wasn't raised without an iPod or a brain. Creamer wants to be a star, more than just a semi icon for those who felt turned off by all the Michelle Wie entitlement, a real crossover sports star.

If you think Paula Creamer yearns to be the next Annika Sorenstam, you're crazy. Think more Maria Sharapova or Danica Patrick. Or maybe even more Serena Williams, who wasn't really recognized for those skin-tight cat suit outfits until she'd already won big.

This 21-year-old is a savvy student of the YouTube/Facebook age. She wasn't raised without an iPod or a brain.

Notice there's no mention of Anna Kournikova. Nor Natalie Gulbis, the 25-year-old with as many reality shows as career wins on her resume (one each). Creamer seems to understand what Gulbis still hasn't fully grasped: That talking yourself up as a sexpot only makes people forget anything else.

Creamer doesn't have a father who sometimes reminds you of Jessica Simpson's dad, like Gulbis. Creamer doesn't make a big deal out of what she wears. When someone asks, she just tells them that's how a million other women her age dress too - and she's right.

Hey, let the old guys leer if they want. Let the college guys do what college guys do (and strangely, with Gulbis long gone after missing the cut, Creamer had more males from Minnesota's institutions of higher learning following her than any other player).

Creamer's comfortable in the spotlight, fine with everything that comes with it. She wants center stage and boy will she have it this afternoon. In the final pairing of the U.S. Women's Open, one shot behind a player getting her first pro paycheck this weekend (an inspirational Stacy Lewis, who's unlikely to win), one shot ahead of a 43-year-old who hasn't won a major in 15 years (Helen Alfredsson), Creamer's one good afternoon from vaulting onto the list of single-name female sports stars.

Which doesn't mean she can't still throw out her own garbage.

There's Paula Creamer taking a detour as she walks up Interlachen Country Club's 10th green, tied for the lead in the biggest tournament in women's golf. She heads right to the ropes to put an energy bar wrapper into one of the big green containers set up there. You know, the ones placed behind the ropes for Average Joe fan's crushed soda cups and half-eaten hot dogs.

Nothing remarkable except for its remarkable ordinariness. It's safe to bet the house that neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson, or much of anyone else on the Top 50 of the PGA Tour's money list, have ever gone over to the crowd to throw something in the garbage. Now granted there are usually many more fans packed against the ropes in PGA Tour events then there are here, but that's still a caddie's job or a volunteer's in that self-entitled world, no matter the situation.

"Paula's fun," says Alfredsson, who's seen it all in her 16 years on the LPGA Tour, from the divas to the temper tantrum masters. "She's good to play with. She knows what it's really all about."

Well, duh.

Brow beating a caddie a sign of Creamer's major growth

Don't mistake that garbage-container stroll for nonchalance, though. This is an athlete who yearns to win, who's probably wanted it too much in these majors, despite her regular string of the blandest sound bites this side of Tim Duncan.

Just watch Creamer on No. 11 - after she misses a par putt that costs her the outright lead she grabbed on 10. She's barking at her veteran caddie, Colin Cann, almost getting in his face even as he tries to walk away. "What? What? What?" Creamer demands, and it's definitely more of a demand than a question for Cann. There's also an unmistakable, "That's so rude," from Creamer.

Creamer's still lecturing Cann about No. 11 when they're on the 12th tee. In truth, Cann looks like a sheepish, brow-beaten spouse, like any caddie looks like after getting it from his player. It's sort of refreshing, really.

If you're going to be great, you can't be afraid to be mean. Sometimes women pro golfers - especially the younger ones - are much more hesitant to get on their caddies than the men are. You're still the player though, you still have to take control of your round, your career.

"I think I was venting a little bit," Creamer says after her round, putting the smile on but staying honest. "I was a little upset with the decisions that we made. But he looked at me and said, 'Paula, look where you're at in the U.S. Open. Stay focused with your gameplan.'

"And that's the advantage of having Colin on my bag. I've had him ever since I've turned pro and he's won U.S. Opens and Majors before. He knows what it's like to get too far ahead of yourself."

Sexy? Sure, if you want. But Paula Creamer understands it doesn't mean so much without the game, without the fire, without the fearlessness.

Well, duh.

June 29, 2008

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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