IN A sport crying out for fashionable young female role models, Paula Creamer stands out from the crowd.
IN A sport crying out for fashionable young female role models, Paula Creamer stands out from the crowd. And not just because of her propensity for pink.
The young American is one of the brightest talents in the world of women's professional golf.
She already has one major under her belt – winning the US Women's Open two years ago despite being in recovery from a thumb injury – and that makes her one of the leading candidates for the British version as it unfolds at Royal Liverpool next week.
Creamer is still only 25, but has made a big impression on the sport from a personal point of view, running up 11 tournament victories so far and a high on the world rankings of second.
But, equally, she is fully aware of the impact she can make in inspiring a new generation of girl golfers.
She is actively involved in the First Tee charity – which aims to help children by teaching them values like integrity, respect and perseverance through playing golf – while insisting that it is a game that can be every bit as appealing to young women.
“Of course golf can be cool and fun,” she says while sitting in a club room that bears witness to more than 100 years of history at Royal Liverpool. The walls are adorned with pictures of club captains, all resplendent in their red jackets that come with their year in office, dating back to the 1800s.
“It is not just a game for the boys. Girls can – and should – play with their friends. It can be an incredibly athletic game – I work out every day – and can teach you things about nutrition, for example.
“There is also the travelling – wherever you are in the world you will find a golf course.
“It is not necessarily an easy game, but that is part of the challenge and fun. I am with Adidas and they are producing clothing that is athletic, but still feminine, so that it is appealing to younger players.
“It is not just about creating professional golfers but what you can learn from playing golf and the life lessons which are so important – things like responsibility, of having the right attitude at all times – which can all stay with you throughout life.
“At First Tee we have nine core values for life, nine healthy habits and a code of conduct that applies to golf and life. ”
However Creamer is aware that the long, drawn-out nature of the game is something that might be putting off prospective players.
“I think the pace of play is a big factor – people just do not have five hours to play the game,” she said. “At First Tee we have a project called 'Play it forward' which involves moving tee boxes forward and playing a shorter version of the game.”
It is a factor that has been recognised by the governing bodies in this country, too, with the England Golf Partnership announcing a tie-up with 60 60 Golf – a new test of golfing skill played at driving ranges in an hour.
There will also be a host of ‘get into golf’ activity surrounding the event to help provide pathways into the sport for new players of all ages.
Creamer's own route into golf is, in many ways, a well-trodden one. A family member – in her case dad Paul – played the game and after inviting her down to play found he had a daughter with a prodigious talent for the game allied with a fierce competitive streak backed up by the necessary work ethic.
“Dad took me down to the course a couple of times when I was about 10,” she explained. “It was all about dance at that stage, but I really picked up on the golf and started to have success with it.
“It reached a point where I had to choose between golf and being a cheerleader.
“I always remember my dad saying to me, you can either cheer for other people or have people cheering for you!
“As a dancer or gymnast I always found people were judging me on how I performed – and I did not really like that. I am very competitive and in golf it is up to you to take yourself to the next level or how you play the next shot. If things do not work out at first, it is up to you to work hard and practise.”
Creamer took the opportunity pay a first visit to the famous Hoylake links, which celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019, ahead of the Evian Masters in France and was impressed by the calibre of a venue that returned to the men's Open roster six years ago after a near 40 years absence.
“This is a great test of golf,” she enthused after a first viewing in which she managed to avoid falling victim to the daunting sand traps, “ a classic links course. I love it!
“It is all about putting the ball in the right place and getting the club selection right. It was narrower than I was expecting and the rough is up, which all means you have to keep the ball extra straight. It is not about being aggressive, but thinking your way round. It is strategy golf and that is right up my alley.”
Such is the growing stature of the Ricoh Women's British Open – it was not even considered one of the majors back in the 1980s – that the venues now largely match those used for the men’s equivalent.
“Ricoh have done a great job putting the tournament on at venues like this – it’s where we should be,” said Creamer, who caught the course on the most benign of days but knows it will show a different face if the wind blows.
“This is a great chance to showcase women's golf and there is no reason why we cannot contend with the course, which has a great set of par 3s.
“It is a fantastic experience to be able to play at places like here, St Andrews and Carnoustie. It can only help women's golf get even stronger.”
On her penchant for pink – she never plays without some element of the colour on her outfit, while she has even used a pink ball – Creamer explained: “I have always loved the colour pink and a good friend of mine, Casey Wittenburg, asked whether I was trying to be the Pink Panther and the nickname stuck.
“I was not setting out to create something, but then it is great to be playing in an event and see a wave of pink among the spectators supporting me. It is a very humbling experience.
“If in turn that has the effect of encouraging just one boy or girl to give golf a go then that is great.”
It means Creamer is an easily identifiable presence out on the course – especially when you add in her Pink Panther head covers – but while it all adds to the fun aspect of the sport, she is deadly serious when it comes to competing.
“I have always wanted to win a British Open,” she says. “It shows you can play in any kind of climate and on a different kind of golf course.
“The Asian golfers will be strong – they work so hard, they put a lot into their golf and they start out young at home. They are fast starters and there are always new players coming through.
“We are outnumbered and I am sure the way players from Asia have dominated the women's game will be seen in the men's game in years to come.
“But when it comes to winning the Ricoh Women's Open, the biggest threat will probably come from myself. It is important I don't get in the way of my own chances of winning.”