CORNING, N.Y. (AP) — Paula Creamer is playing the Corning Classic for the first time in her three years on the LPGA Tour. Considering her history and the built-in cheering gallery that will be on hand, it’s a wonder it took so long.
“This is the type of golf course I grew up on — tree-lined, old traditional style,” Creamer said Wednesday, after playing in the annual pro-am tournament at the narrow Corning Country Club. “This is what I like. This is the type of thing that I think kind of levels everybody out because length isn’t really a big issue.”
The 20-year-old Creamer also won’t have to worry about Hee-Won Han, who beat Meena Lee a year ago in a four-hole playoff. For the first time in the tournament’s 29-year history, the defending champion isn’t back to defend. Han is expecting her first child in less than two months and quit playing after last month’s Kraft Nabisco Championship.
The field does include seven past champions: Jimin Kang (2005), Laura Diaz (2002), Carin Koch (2001), Kelli Kuehne (1999), Sherri Turner (1988), Cindy Rarick (1987), and Laurie Rinker (1986). The field of 144 was completed Monday when Audra Burks and Pamela Kerrigan bested a field of seven nonexempt qualifiers.
Creamer just might be the player to beat, though. She ranks eighth on this year’s money list with $393,736 earned in eight events. She won at Turtle Bay in her first start of the season, tied for fourth two weeks ago at the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill, and has finished in the top 15 in all but two of the events she’s entered.
And she’ll have all sorts of relatives cheering her every swing at Corning.
“I have a lot of family that lives in (nearby) Ithaca, my grandpa, my aunt, my uncle and my cousins,” Creamer said. “So there will be a pretty big following out there.”
Creamer, who ranks sixth on the tour in scoring (71), rounds under par (.593), and driving accuracy (.794) and fourth in greens in regulation (.738), skipped last week’s Sybase Classic, the third tournament she chose not to play this year.
That more selective schedule has helped put her second year in perspective.
Creamer won the 2005 Sybase Classic just four days after graduating from high school, becoming the youngest winner of a multi-round event in LPGA history at 18 years, nine months and 17 days. She won the Evian Masters two months later, won twice in Japan and easily took rookie of the year honors.
Last season was different. Although Creamer did not miss a cut in 27 events and had 14 top-10 finishes, including a second-place tie at the LPGA Tournament of Champions, she didn’t win.
Chalk it up to youthful exuberance.
“I think the real problem with my last year was I never really had a rest after the rookie year,” said Creamer, who set an LPGA record for most money earned in a season ($1,076,163) without a victory. “I went to Singapore and South Africa and all these places, and I never really had a chance to sit at home and have two weeks off.
“I’ve learned,” she said. “I’m getting older out here and realizing what it takes.”
Divots: Laura Diaz has earned more money at Corning ($274,740) than any other active player and ranks third overall, behind two-time champion Rosie Jones ($564,630) and Tammie Green ($287,854). Last year Diaz tied for fifth, her best showing since winning the tournament in 2002.