For young fans of golf in this country, particularly girls, Paula Creamer is probably the most heralded icon in the game, and it’s easy to see why.
The 26-year-old Californian walked onto the practice range at Sebonack on Tuesday, June 25, for a special exhibition with Today Show host Matt Lauer sporting bright orange shorts, an orange, pink and white striped shirt, multi-colored fingernails and a ribbon wrapped around her blond ponytail, tucked under her cap. The eyes of dozens of young girls and a few boys were locked on her as she described her background in golf, took practice shots while discussing her technique, and answered questions from the crowd.
Creamer picked up golf thanks to her father, who routinely brought her out to play at the Castlewood Country Club, the course they lived right next door to while Creamer was growing up. Creamer admitted that she didn’t fall in love with the game right away; her first passion in life was dance, she said. But eventually, her natural talent for the sport began to shine through, and when she was 11 years old, she had to make a tough choice—join the school cheerleading team or golf team. To help her make up her mind, Creamer said her father asked her a poignant question: “Do you want to cheer for people or have people cheer for you?”
Creamer’s decision to pursue golf was a good one. She was the only girl on her middle school golf team, and refused to play from the red tees, determined to prove to her all male teammates that she was every bit as capable as them. There’s no disputing that now, of course, as she is one of the top players on the LPGA Tour and has a major to her credit, having won the U.S. Open in 2010.
Creamer had a strong showing at this year’s Open at Sebonack, finishing tied for fourth with a 1-over par 289. Champion Inbee Park shot an 8-under par 280.
Before she turned her attention to the competition, Creamer kept things lighthearted with her young fans in the clinic. She hit a few wedge shots, a few iron shots, and then wielded her driver, much to the delight of the fans.
It took a little urging from Creamer to get Lauer to finally bust out his clubs, and when he did, he told the crowd not to expect the same level of expertise it had just witnessed from Creamer. But after Lauer hit one drive, it was clear that he is a longtime student of the game as well. Like Creamer, Lauer picked up the game from his father. He described how playing golf with his dad was very important to him when he was young, particularly because his parents were divorced, and he said that the quality time they spent together on the course was more important than the golf itself.
Lauer went on to describe how golf became a bit of an obsession for him and how, at times, the intensity with which he approached the game ruined some of the joy of playing it. Lauer said he was often hard on himself, until a friend told him “it’s almost no fun to play with you.” Lauer then turned to Creamer, and asked her if she could relate to that experience; she hesitated, before replying that she couldn’t, which got a laugh from the crowd, as well as Lauer. Creamer laughed too, before describing how keeping herself in a good place mentally has been an important part of her success, and a key aspect of the game for any successful players.
After the exhibition, Creamer was gracious with her young fans, signing autographs and posing for photos before stepping into the USGA media tent for her pre-championship press conference. In that press conference, she spoke about Sebonack and how she was excited to play on the East End of Long Island.
“This is my first time here,” she said. “Just being around all the golf courses, National, Shinnecock, all of that, it’s pretty cool. I mean, the venue is amazing. The views here are just so pretty. [Veteran tour player] Juli Inkster told me, I remember when we were out at practice, she said it’s a big playground for golfers. And it’s true. It really is.”