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. The daughter of a Navy flying vet, she is also engaged to an Air Force Vet, and has put an infectiously joyous demeanor on the fiercely competitive game of golf.
A winner of 12 professional tournaments, including one US Open major, 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 five 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 her U.S. Open victory in a surprise tribute the Thunderbirds prepared for Paula. 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.
"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."
The grit and joy that seems to accompany her game has since won her the nickname "The Pink Panther."
PAULA TO MARRY AIR FORCE VET
And she continues to make headlines both on and off the course. Creamer, 27, became engaged to Derek Heath, a 33-year-old Air Force Academy graduate from Newport Beach, Calif., late last year. Creamer made the announcement on Twitter with photos of her with her fiancé, including one showing how he proposed to her during a skydive.
“I am in such a great place,” Creamer said, according to the Golf Channel. “Derek just makes me want to be better, makes me want to be a better person."
The couple met through their parents, which include their Navy Vet dads, at the Kia Classic golf tournament in 2013. Derek flies C-17s, large military transports, for the Air Force. He recently moved into active reserve status.
FLYING WITH THE WITH AIR FORCE THUNDERBIRDS
Creamer always seems to have a penchant for flying high. In 2010, she 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."
MEETING A 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."
Image Credit: http://golfweek.com/2016/07/06/us-womens-open-paula-creamer-home-slump-new-swing-coach/