Moving On Up

Creamer (<i>right</i>) and Wie shared low-amateur honors at the 2004 U.S. Open.
Fred Vuich/SI

This article first appeared in the December 13, 2004 issue of Sports Illustrated.

On Sunday, as Brian Davis was separating himself from the pack at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, an event he would eventually win by one stroke, the most compelling story in golf was unfolding in Daytona Beach at the LPGA Q school. There, 18-year-old Paula Creamer, a senior at the Pendleton School in Bradenton, Fla., was walking away with medalist honors after shooting a final-round 70. It was her fifth-straight round under par, capping an 11-under 349 as she became the first amateur ever to win the event.

“I was pretty nervous and probably double-checked my scorecard 100 times,” said Creamer, who turned pro immediately after her win. “It’s been a long time, and I’m glad it ended this way and glad it’s over.” The idea of a teenager complaining about the long wait to receive her professional coronation may seem strange, but it speaks to Creamer’s ambition and accomplishments. “My expectations are incredibly high,” she said. “I have a lot of goals I want to achieve.”

Creamer entered as the favorite after winning the Futures tour Q school in early November and showing well in seven LPGA starts this year. She made the cut in all of those appearances and had five top 20s, including a tie for second at the ShopRite LPGA Classic last June. In July she tied for low amateur at the U.S. Women’s Open, finishing 13th. The player she tied in that event? Michelle Wie.

Their matching performances that week spurred talk of a budding teen queen rivalry and conjured visions of Wie-Creamer showdowns for decades to come. That’s why Creamer’s win on Sunday afternoon may be as significant for what it means to Wie as for what it does to Creamer.

Still only 15 and a sophomore at the Punahou School in Honolulu, Wie now must seriously think about turning pro sooner rather than later. Besides Creamer, 19-year-old Brittany Lincicome of Seminole, Fla., also made it through Q school, and several other talented teens, like Jane Park and Naree Song, seem poised to make the jump before long. If Wie waits to finish high school, she risks becoming simply the latest in a long line of good young players, rather than the preternaturally special talent she’s been seen as up until now.

For the moment Wie commands more attention because of her 300-yard drives and her appearances in men’s events, such as the PGA Tour’s Sony Open, in which she’ll play for the second straight year in January. But if one or more of the other teen phenoms wins a few LPGA events, it will certainly steal some of Wie’s thunder. Such an occurrence could cost her millions in endorsements, and as Michelle has said, she’s looking to earn ” Tiger Woods money.”

For now Creamer is the one who’s ready to start cashing in, although that’ll have to wait until the 2005 season begins in February. When asked what she planned to do with the $6,000 purse that goes to the Q school winner, Creamer frowned and said, “I don’t get the money because I entered as an amateur.” It’s the last time that’ll happen.