Creamer attracts about 300 for clinic at Green Valley Ranch
by Gary Baines
Paula Creamer turned 30 years old this month, but in some ways fans still view her as a girl at heart.
After all, she’s grown up before our very eyes, having played on the LPGA Tour since she was 18. She won her first LPGA event before she graduated from high school, and she competed in her first U.S. Women’s Open right here in Colorado, in 2005 at Cherry Hills Country Club.
Her nickname, the Pink Panther, is a cartoon character based on her color of choice. And kids still seem to flock to her like she’s one of their own. That certainly seemed to be the case on Monday when about 300 people attended a Creamer clinic for girls at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club in Denver ahead of this week’s CoBank Colorado Women’s Open.
“I definitely do feel (I can relate to today’s kids),” she said before the clinic. “I’m not that far removed from them. I mean, I don’t play Pokemon on my phone — but I know what it is. Whether it’s the ribbon in my hair that helps them relate to me, the color pink — things like that — I don’t feel I’m that far removed from them.”
So perhaps there are few people who can speak more knowledgeably about growing the game of golf among girls and have the stature (10 LPGA Tour victories, including the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open) to both do something about it and know how to reach females in their teenage years and younger.
“There are far fewer girls playing this game than there are boys,” CEO Bob Engel of CoBank, the clinic’s presenting sponsor, noted on Monday. “… My hat is off to Paula. One of the reasons we so much wanted to get Paula here is, (if you look at) the number of girls and young women participating in golf since Paula came onto the scene, there really is a pretty direct correlation since Paula began her rise.”
Asked what she thinks is the current trajectory of girls golf — upward or downward — Creamer said, “It’s kind of at a plateau right now. It’s risen over the last five or six years, without a doubt. But you need to keep pushing it to grow more. There’s so many junior tournaments for young boys and girls to be part of, and organizations where they can go learn the game of golf.”
Those organizations certainly include The First Tee, for which Creamer has long served as an ambassador. At Green Valley Ranch, The First Tee is the beneficiary of each of the CoBank Colorado Open Championships — the Colorado Open, Colorado Women’s Open and Colorado Senior Open. Many of those in attendance at Creamer’s clinic on Monday were members of various First Tee organizations in Denver, or of other youth groups in the metro area.
Creamer, who has 227,000 followers on Twitter and 112,000 on Instagram, takes her commitment to growing the game through such organizations very seriously.
“When people look at my career whenever I retire, do I want major championships and want these wins? Yeah,” she said. “But I’d rather have motivated young girls and boys and I’d rather have made an impact growing the game of golf. That is so important, and it’s not something I take lightly. I definitely give my time to that. It’s important to be able to use the platform that I have and to speak about it.”
So what are some of the keys to getting more girls involved in golf — and keeping them involved going through adulthood?
“I think there’s a big correlation in how they’re getting taught,” she said. “Coaches are so important. Whoever the instructor is or whoever is showing them how to play golf, they need to make it fun. They need to not force it on somebody. For little girls sometimes, it’s about getting the outfits, about getting the clothes, getting a ballmarker — whatever it is that keeps them excited about the game of golf.
“When you have a child that gets their own equipment, that’s kind of a neat thing. You go play tennis, you get your own tennis racket. In golf, most of the time they’re hand-me-downs or they’re your dad’s clubs that are cut down. When they’re theirs, it’s a little bit more exciting. That’s their own set of clubs. I think it’s the same for women as well. It makes it a little more personal.
“But being able to make it fun is important (for girls). Having them doing putting some days, going to a putt-putt golf course. Even Footgolf where you play soccer out on a golf course. Giving them the opportunity to do (those fun games), that is so important.”
When Creamer does a clinic for young girls, she may often provide a swing tip or two that will help certain players. But her overall message tends to be much larger scale than that.
“Golf is so important to have in your life,” she notes. “Having golf in your back pocket is so important, especially in the business world. What I tell young girls is, ‘It can help you get into college, into these great schools.’ And (just generally) you learn so much through the game.”
Certainly that was true for Creamer. As a teenager while playing in The First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, she had the opportunity to meet Arnold Palmer, and he offered her some advice.
“He said ‘Make sure when you sign your autograph, it’s legible so people can read it because you’re going to be famous one day,'” she remembers. “‘And look them in the eye every time you introduce yourself and say your name clearly.’ And I was like, ‘OK.’ And I turned around and wrote it down: ‘Sign name clearly and look them in the eye.’ That was one of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever been given.”
And now Creamer is no doubt playing the role for young kids that Palmer played for her years back.
“The way the kids look at you, it’s amazing,” she said. “It’s so refreshing and so nice to see. It’s awesome that there’s something you can do to help them play the game. If they’re taking the time to come out and watch you, you acknowledge them. They’re the youth of today, and you have to embrace them (symbolically). I’ll do whatever it takes to talk to the kids and sign autographs. After the round I’ll sign for hours sometimes.”