"I'm the worst (packer) in the world. It's awful. I have two suitcases and my golf clubs. I'm lucky my parents travel with me. My Dad only gets to bring one suitcase. He has to take one for the team."
Paula Creamer, 23, has won eight times on the LPGA Tour and is the No. 7-ranked women's player in the world. In 2009 Creamer went to Mexico and came back with a season-long stomach ache that left her doctors confused and Creamer traveling with her own food. Now that her health is under control she's back to golf, she's looking forward to a big year while keeping one eye on Annika's daughter, Ava. Creamer talks travel, Tiger and how she'd fix the LPGA.
I know you had a rough 2009 in terms of your health. What happened and how are you feeling now?
I feel great right now. Last year, in Guadalajara, I got sick. The doctors don't know what was wrong with me. I took so much medication my immune system was non-existent, so any time I got a little tired or I'd get a little cold it would turn into the flu or bronchitis. It was a difficult year. What was frustrating -- it had nothing to do with my golf, it was my physical health. And when you're not feeling 100 percent, it's tough to go out there and give it your all because you have so many other things going on in your mind. They said it would take about a year to get back to normal. I'm finally starting to feel like the old Paula, which is nice.
And I read this affected how you travel. Didn't you go back to Mexico and you brought your own food and water?
When I went back to Mexico I had pancakes and rice, but otherwise I ate everything I brought. I paid $130 in extra baggage fees, but it was worth it not to get sick again. I ate canned tuna, crackers, Chef Boyardee, Easy Mac, you name it. I would do it every time. I don't want to feel what I felt last year.
In 2009 you had six top-three finishes and lead the tour in greens in regulation, but you didn't get a win. What do you take from that season?
I've had a few weeks to look back. I went through a lot because I was so sick. I lost so much weight, I gained so much weight, I took a ton of medication, things I've never experienced before. But considering all that I've been through, I think I played well. It's definitely not what I expected, I can tell you that. In my mind, it doesn't matter that I'm sick. I feel like if I can play, I should be able to win. Life threw me a curve ball. I don't know if I played an event where I felt better than 85 percent, but in my mind, I'm so competitive, I feel like I should be able to grind it out for five hours on the golf course and I feel like I should win. And I couldn't do it. It was hard. But I feel like it made me a lot stronger, mentally, and it put things in perspective. It was a year of learning. I'm looking at the positive so that I can make 2010 the best year I've ever had. I feel better, things are going to start clicking and that's my goal in 2010 -- to have my best year yet. I'm getting things under control with my health, my fitness and getting all my strength back.
In addition to your health, it was also a tumultuous year for the tour. You're an active voice and a big representative for the American players. Was the state of the tour on your mind as well, or did you back burner that because of your personal issues?
The tour is my life. Without the LPGA Tour I wouldn't be here. I definitely took part in everything that was going on. This is my fifth year. When I started Ty Votaw was leaving, Commissioner Bivens was coming in. I felt like I was entitled to my opinion. It was hard, I've never been a part of something like that, but I think it was necessary for our tour and hopefully everything can get back to where it used to be six or seven years ago, because we have so much talent.
What is your first impression of Michael Whan, the new commissioner?
He seems like a wonderful man. He understands golf, he has a vision and he knows what we all want. Hopefully we can see an improvement. The biggest thing for me is the relationship with all of our sponsors. I think it needs to be the number one priority. If we don't have them, we won't have any events. I do my part with the sponsors and I know a lot of the other girls do as well, and it's sad watching tournaments go away when the players have such strong relationships with the sponsors.
It must be frustrating to understand your role to promote the tour, and you're out there doing it -- playing in pro-ams, interacting with your partners, engaging in conversations, doing things as simple as helping them read putts, and yet, events are going away.
It is difficult. It's very hard. We meet so many wonderful people through golf, you develop these relationships, and all of a sudden they're just gone. It's confusing. How does this happen? Why does this happen? With our new commissioner, he'll get things done. Marty Evans, who was our interim commissioner, she brought a few events back, which is nice, but we need a lot more. Especially back here in the States.
If you were the new LPGA commissioner what would be your first move?
Definitely the sponsors, without a doubt. I would make an effort to go to every tournament we have and go to every sponsor who has any interest in us. I'd talk to them, hear what they need and try to create a plan that works for everybody.
Do you believe in the concept of a two-tiered tour, where the top 50 plays in more events of a limited field?
I like the smaller field events. I enjoy that. I feel like we get a lot of attention in a limited field event, the purse sizes are bigger. But I also understand that there are a lot of players, where this is their livelihood, and we need 130-player fields and sponsors want everybody there, which is understandable. But for me, I like the smaller events.
You've been on tour for five years, traveling all over the world, are you an efficient packer?
I'm the worst in the world. It's awful. I have two suitcases and my golf clubs. I'm lucky my parents travel with me. My Dad only gets to bring one suitcase. He has to take one for the team. I plan my golf outfits for the tournaments, I recycle some for the practice rounds, but I always have new ideas for my golf attire, and I like to dress nice after the rounds, so I have to bring all my heels. It's terrible. The worst part about being on tour is living out of a suitcase.
You're making $5 million a year. Has this changed how you get from place-to-place? When's the last time you flew commercial?
More than half the time I fly commercial. I share some time on private jets with Morgan Pressel.
I know you went to the Leadbetter Academy, but looking back, do you regret not going to college?
No. I can honestly say that. These have been the best five years of my life. There is so much I want to do in women's golf and I'm living my dream. Obviously there are moments where I think it would've been nice to go to some college football games and root for a specific team, but I didn't want to be the number one collegiate player. I wanted to be the best American player on tour and I wanted to be the number one player in the world. School is very important to my family. I will go back and get my degree, there's not a doubt in my mind. But when you have opportunities like I did, you have to take advantage of them.
Michelle Wie won her first tournament at the end of last year; are you surprised it took her so long and was this a breakthrough?
Getting your first win is always a huge weight lifted off your shoulders. She has been playing a ton of LPGA events and I think everybody thought it would be sooner, but she won, and she did it. I was in contention in that same event, but it was nice to see her win.
You live in Isleworth in Orlando. From a competitive standpoint, have you learned from being around some of the other tour pros in your neighborhood?
Without a doubt. It's an amazing community. You stand on the range, you've got Tiger Woods, you've got J.B. Holmes, Charles Howell, Stuart Appleby . . . you learn so much from watching them. You can watch them for 10 or 15 minutes and you already feel like you're a better player. I've learned a lot from Tiger. He helped me with imagination, my short game and my preparation. He's very nice when he's helping me. He listens. Which was great because the girl with the pink ball is invading the range. There aren't any other LPGA players out here so it was new for everybody.
Did you get in any pickup games with those guys?
Yes, but it's hard because of the difference in seasons. Their season starts so early. We didn't have a lot of money games, but we have a lot of chipping and putting contests.
And can you hold your own? Did you take any money off these guys?
I try. [Laughs.] We have a running tab -- we collect at the end, because no one wants to hand over money right away.
The first time I interviewed you, you were 19 and you didn't know how to use an ATM card. Is that still true?
Yes. It's still true. I don't even think I have one anymore. I've always used a credit card.
What's the last extravagant thing you bought, where the price gave you pause?
I bought a house last year, that's kind of a big thing. [Laughs.] I love it. It's perfect. It's about seven houses from my parents, so it's close enough, but far enough away.
Seven houses -- that's far enough?
Well, we have a small body of water between us. [Laughs.]
Did you ever buy yourself a car?
Yes. I have a M6, BMW. Her name is Black Beauty, like the horse.
As an Isleworth resident, how far away do you live from Tiger? Did he wake you up in November, at 2:30 in the morning?
No. We live on opposite sides of the property. We're in the same complex but I'm in the front and he's near the back.
You told me you grew up being a fan of Tiger, that he helped get you into the game and that he has become a friend of yours. Does all of this craziness affect your relationship with him?
It's unfortunate, what happened, and how it's being handled. But it's really none of my business. It's none of our business, what goes on in his life. He's still one of my friends. I guess we'll never know the truth. I still want him to break records and do everything he wants to do.
You both were focused on a specific sport at an early age, and then you've both achieved a certain star status. You've had brushes with the world of celebrities and entertainers, and then you go back to being an athlete. Have you ever struggled with going back and forth, from being an athlete and an entertainer, or have you been able to stay grounded?
As you said, we are entertainers too. We are athletes, but we have millions of people watching us do what we do. It's exciting, but I've learned a lot over the years. Sitting down, I see a camera flash, and I'm aware of where it's coming from. You have to be aware of your surroundings, be aware of your friends, and know what is going on around you.
What athlete or celebrity encounter has impressed you the most?
I'm always so nervous being around celebrities and athletes because I don't want to bother them when I see them. One of the coolest things was meeting Jerry Rice. Being a 49ers fan, being able to meet him and play golf with him, I couldn't stop staring at him. I thought my Mom was going to have a heart attack when she met him. Golf is amazing how it brings so many people together -- where you can go out with other athletes of other sports and go out and play together.
I saw a picture of you hitting a smoking pink ball off a boat in the South China Sea. You must find yourself doing some crazy things in some exotic places. Are there places you want to go back to when you're married and on vacation? Do you have a favorite city?
Tokyo is my favorite place. We play this game: Where would you live for a year if money didn't matter, if you were okay being away from family and friends? I always say I'd live in Tokyo. I love everything about it. It's pretty, the culture, it's fast paced. The people are so wonderful.
A 5-foot-9 Paula Creamer in heels must be one of the tallest people roaming the streets there.
I am a little bit taller. I'm Godzilla.
Is New York still your favorite place for a shopping spree?
I like New York, but I'd also say Las Vegas. All the shops are so much closer. You don't have to take cabs everywhere. But New York has so many unique shops. I like getting one-of-a-kind things too.
__Have you been to Bandon Dunes?
No. I've heard it's beautiful. I'm not big on playing golf on vacation but I would be interested in doing that. I've also always wanted to play Cypress
You want to play Cypress Point and you haven't been able to make that happen?
No. I've never been able to make that happen. I haven't tried, but I've always wanted to.
On a commercial flight, are you an aisle or window person?
Aisle in the day, window at night, so I can sleep. Never a middle seat. Never.
If you could change one thing about the airline industry, what would it be?
What's the most played song on your iPod right now?
I love Rihanna. She's awesome. I like her songs and how she dresses and that she takes risks with things. My iPod is probably the most diverse iPod in the world. I have everything from Elton John to Michael Jackson to Rihanna to Eminem to Jay-Z.
What book are you reading right now?
Andre Aggasi's book. It's interesting. I want to read more and more because of all that's come out about it.
We're not going to read a Paula Creamer book in ten years, about how you hated golf, are we?
No. That won't happen. [Laughs.]
Four years ago you mentioned there would eventually be plans to start a family. You said you envied Julie Inkster and how she juggles a family life with a successful professional career. What's the status of your personal life? How's Paula's pursuit of a family?
No family anytime soon. I was 18 or 19 at the time. I don't know what I was thinking of having a family at 22 or 23. Maybe closer to 30 we can talk about a family.
So you're committed to staying focused on golf?
Oh yeah. I want to do so much with my golf. Which isn't selfish by any means, I mean I'm only 23 years old. But if I'm going to have a husband and children, I want to be able to do all of those things, to give it 100 percent. I feel like I have so much more that I want to achieve in golf. I'm not ready yet, but hopefully that day will come and I'll be ready to take on that new adventure.
Is part of you relieved that Annika is gone from competition? Now you don't have to deal with her winning all of the time?
Yes, but now we have to watch our backs for Annika's daughter, Ava.
A three-foot putt for your life, would you take it or is there someone else you'd call to take it for you?
I would do it or I would have Tiger Woods do it.
What about Jack Nicklaus?
I could have Jack do it, too. If Tiger was sick, I'd have Jack do it for me, and then I'd have him sign the ball for me after he made it.
Help me understand social networking. I know Michelle Wie has a blog that's a little weird. Do you have a blog? Are you on Facebook? Do you tweet?
I don't have a blog and I don't do Facebook, but I do tweet. My name is: ThePCreamer.
How many followers do you have?
I really don't know. I just started it back up again. I was ThePaulaCreamer but something happened and I got kicked off. Apparently they thought I was doing bad things on my Twitter page. I guess I wasn't following enough people. So then I started it back up again under a different name. I write two things every day or every other day. It really is me. I think the only way people believe it's you is by posting pictures, so I'll do that occasionally. I think it's a great way to get in touch with your fans. I think people go overboard with it. I don't think I need to tell people I'm going go get bread, or things like that. But what I'm doing during the season, when I talk about my round, what I tried to do on the course, people seem interested in that. [Editor's note: ThePCreamer has 4,487 followers.]
I'm looking forward to this big 2010 from you. I think a major is inevitable.
Me too. I agree. There has been enough time now, it's bound to happen.