PHOENIX – Paula Creamer is making her first start of 2018 this week with sweeping changes in her professional and personal life.
Creamer, 31, will tee it up in Thursday’s start to the LPGA Founders Cup with a new swing coach and new equipment.
She makes her new start also confirming reports that she has split up with her husband, Derek Heath, after three years of marriage.
“Derek and I are no longer together,” Creamer said after her pro-am round. “We want to keep it as private as we can, but I am back out here, and I am beyond excited to be back out here.”
Creamer is eager to return to the game after dealing with physical and personal challenges in a long off season. She withdrew from the Evian Championship in September after aggravating an injury to her left wrist in the first round. She later reported she was diagnosed with “intersection syndrome,” an inflammation to the tendon. She underwent surgery to repair the wrist in October.
This will be Creamer’s first start in six months.
How ready is she to return?
“I definitely have put a lot of focus and energy in my golf, and I feel great,” Creamer said. “I feel as strong as I’ve ever been, mentally and physically.”
Creamer said she was so eager to get herself ready to return this year, she hit balls one handed for about a month while recuperating from the surgery.
“With my pink cast on,” Creamer said.
Creamer comes back saying she is driven to become world No. 1.
“That’s my No. 1 goal,” she said.
With 10 LPGA titles, including the 2010 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Creamer is hungry for more. She is looking for her first victory in four years. Her time away after surgery motivated her.
“I think it made me realize just how bad, how much fire, how much I want to achieve in this game,” she said. “I look at what I’ve done, and it’s not good enough yet.”
Creamer has battled injuries throughout her career. She missed four months of the 2010 season after undergoing left thumb surgery, but she said recuperation from this injury was particularly difficult.
Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup
“Rehab was brutal,” she said. “That was probably one of the hardest things I have had to go through, just the pain. There was so much that we did in my surgery.”
Creamer said the work paid off.
“I am probably the healthiest I’ve been,” Creamer said. “I look back over the years, and I always come back after my off seasons, and I always say I’m stronger and I feel better, but I really think this is the best I, honestly, have felt.”
Creamer left Gary Gilchrist as her coach late last season and is now working with Kevin Craggs. He’s just the third coach she has had since turning professional.
“Kevin’s presence and his focus and the determination and desire that he has for me is one of the greatest things I’ve ever been around,” Creamer said. “I’m beyond motivated, and when I’m just near him it makes me want to be better.
“I’ve never had this much fun playing golf.
Creamer also has kind of a new caddie this year. David Brooker shared duties toting her bag last year but will be full time this year.
Creamer’s struggles as a player began four years ago, about the time she went searching for more distance with her long-time swing coach, David Whelan. They changed her swing with her driver. The downswing that for so long made her iron play so good was negatively impacting her distance with the driver. They went to work getting her to swing more up on the ball with the driver.
The swing changes didn’t translate into her iron game.
Creamer led the LPGA in hitting greens in regulation in ‘09. She never finished worse than seventh in that category in her first eight years on tour, but she hasn’t been among the top 30 in greens in regulation over the last four years.
Creamer also slipped to 89th in money winnings last year, the worst finish of her 13-year LPGA career.
All of that led to Creamer overhauling her swing with Craggs.
“I’m much more on plane now,” Creamer said. “I have, basically, a pause at the top of my swing, which I’ve never had. I’ve always thought hitting it hard was swinging it back fast and then just figuring out timing.
“I realize now, that if I get behind the ball, I can get all of my power from there, and then swing as hard as I can. I literally swing as hard as I can now. Before, I was definitely trying to just keep it in play.”
This week’s return comes with some rookie-like nerves.
“I’m just excited to be out here,” Creamer said. “I’ve worked hard, and my team has worked hard. We’ve done a really good job of getting me here. Now, it’s just going out and playing.”