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Pro golfer Paula Creamer has made pink her signature color like Tiger Woods has done with the color red in the men's game. But the comparisons end there. She is the daughter of a Navy flying vet, and has put an infectiously joyous demeanor on the fiercely competitive game of golf.
A winner of 11 professional tournaments, including one US Open major, by the age of 25, she has delivered under the demanding "win early" standards of women's golf. She's also developed a reputation for stellar team play, building a winning record in three Solheim Cups, the women's equivalent of the heavily patriotic Ryder Cup.
Paula has overcome a number of physical and emotional struggles along the way, including the ones that come with performing at a high level at a young age. No doubt an appreciation of the military work ethic together with the dedication and support of loving parents, prepared her well. Her father, a Naval Academy graduate and pilot, first introduced Paula to the game and since they lived on a golf course, there was plenty of opportunity. The family moved from Pleasanton, Calif., to Bradenton, so the 13-year-old Creamer could train at the legendary David Leadbetter Golf Academy.
And like an F-16, she took off. She won 19 tournaments as an amateur and was the top-ranked girls' player on the American Junior Golf Association circuit in '03. In December she won the five-round LPGA qualifying tournament in Daytona Beach by five strokes, and subsequently entered her first pro season as an 18-year old.
Paula Creamer flew in an F-16 with the elite U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds at the Air Force Reserve Base in Pittsburgh. Accompanied by U.S. Air Force Captain Kristin Hubbard, Creamer flew over Oakmont Country Club, the site of her U.S. Open victory in a surprise tribute the Thunderbirds prepared for Paula. (Click image to enlarge)
"There's nobody harder on [Paula] than herself," Paul told Sports Illustrated after his daughter's first professional victory, the Sybase Open in 2005, just four days before Creamer's high-school graduation, and four years before major career adversity. Possible career-ending surgery on her thumb in early in 2010, driving her to tears on her dad's shoulder, left many to wonder if she would ever golf again.
Instead, it steeled her resolve to find a deeper meaning. "Something I love so much was taken away from me for that amount of time. I told myself that I want to be this role model; I want to show the little girls how to overcome adversity and not fall into the trap of it."
Flash forward a few months, when she won the US Women's Open major championship on one of the world's toughest courses, the Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania.
"She was on a mission this week," her dad told the Boston Globe, sounding like a Navy flyer who appreciates the meticulous calibration that comes from landing on moving runways. "She's learned something different at every Open, every major, every tournament. [This rewards] a lot of years of hard work and perseverance and believing in herself."
"Yes, there was a time before my surgery where I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I may never play golf again.' But it was what I had to do,'' Creamer said in the same article. "And here we are with the US Open [trophy] next to me. Pretty cool."
The grit and joy that seems to accompany her game has since won her the nickname "The Pink Panther."
PAULA CREAMER FLIES WITH AIR FORCE THUNDERBIRDS
2010 continued to be a special year, as Paula Creamer flew in an F-16 with the elite U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds at the Air Force Reserve Base in Pittsburgh. Accompanied by U.S. Air Force Captain Kristin Hubbard, Creamer flew over Oakmont Country Club, the site of her U.S. Open victory in a surprise tribute the Thunderbirds prepared for Paula.
Tweeted Creamer after the experience, showing both the fearlessness and enthusiasm of her youth: "That was the best thing I have ever done! I have never had so much fun in my (life)! And I didn't throw up!!!! I pulled 9.1 G's. Greatest thing I have ever done."
"I want to thank all the brave men and women in uniform that protect our freedom every day. It was an honor to spend a day with some of you."
PAUL CREAMER MEETS SPECIAL FAN
Soon after, Creamer hosted her self-proclaimed No. 1 fan, the young daughter of an Iraq War veteran and aspiring golfer. Malia Stovall came and joined Creamer behind the ropes and they walked three holes together at the Navistar LPGA Classic in what was truly a wish come true for the 10 year old. Her dad, Jimmy Stovall, a Major in the United States Air Force, set up the meeting in advance, through an email request while he was in Baghdad. Predictably, both young Stovall and Creamer dressed in pink that day.
"I would do pretty much anything for somebody who serves our country," said Creamer. "God bless you, because it's amazing that I'm able to come out here and hold a golf club in my hand, and there are people over there fighting for us. The fact that she's 10 years old, I started when I was 10 years old; we have a lot in common. If you can touch one person's heart, and maybe something I said out there today helps her get better or achieve her dreams and what she wants, then I will be a happy person."
Creamer even let Malia Stovall practice putt on the 16th green with her putter, and offered advice on her game.
"It's nice when you see little people who want to make a difference in the world," Creamer spoke of young Stovall while the two conducted a media interview at the tournament. "When they have role models and influences like your dad, truly it is really special. You're a very lucky girl."
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