By Bob De Witt
Special to the Pleasanton Weekly
Paula Creamer, Pleasanton's hometown hero, tees it up this week at the Evian Masters tournament in France with a new title to get used to: United States Women's Open champion.
Creamer barely needed a jetliner to cross the Atlantic, still flying high after a winning the Open on July 11 at famed Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, Pa. The 23-year old seized her first major and 9th win as a professional by executing near-perfect approach shots on the back nine, closing with a 69 to win by four shots.
The list of major champions at Oakmont reads like a Who's Who of Golf: Sarazen, Jones, Snead, Hogan, Nicklaus, Miller, and now, Paula Creamer. With Asian players winning nine of the 12 events thus far this season on the LPGA Tour, the Pink Panther is proud to be born in the U.S.A.
"I always think an American should be on this U.S. Open trophy," Creamer told sportswriters as her surgically-repaired hand continued to throb. "I think that we've proven in the last couple of months that the Americans are there."
The pride of Pleasanton's Castlewood Country Club struggled through most of the 2009 season after contracting an intestinal illness in Mexico, and had played only four tournaments since a March 30 operation to repair stretched ligaments in her left thumb. But missing the cut the previous week at the Jamie Farr Classic near Toledo, Ohio may have been a veiled blessing, allowing Creamer to rest and focus on Oakmont. She was well prepared, having studied DVD's of Angel Cabrera's win at the U.S. Open in 2007, and badly wanted to win this championship.
"What's happened in the past has made me a stronger person," she said. "I'm a grinder. I'm gonna give it 110 percent, and we'll see what happens."
Proud parents Karen and Paul Creamer walked all four rounds with their daughter, who lived in Pleasanton until age 14 before moving to Florida to practice and play full-time. Mom and dad now live seven houses away at Isleworth.
As members of Castlewood watched on TV, cheering her on, Creamer stuck irons close to the hole on 13, 14, 15 and 16, draining two birdie putts to pull away from the field. Whom did she ask for advice before teeing off Thursday?
"I did a clinic with the King…(Arnold Palmer), and I asked him, What do I need to do around here?" Creamer answered. "He said, (don't) three-putt, and keep your head down the whole time."
Creamer's first win in nearly two years was worth $585,000, and with fellow American Cristie Kerr's victory in the LPGA Championship last month, the struggling women's tour can also wave the Red, White and Blue.
"It's great to see another American win," said Kerr, who this week fell back to No. 2 in the world rankings, behind Ai Miyazato of Japan, the defending champion at the Evian Masters. "I think we can all stop answering, when are the Americans going to come up for the challenge."
Editor's note: Reporter Bob De Witt has covered major championships on the men's, women's, senior and amateur tours. He is based in Pittsburgh.