There is an old adage which suggests that you should always beware the injured golfer and it might well be reinforced this week if America’s Paula Creamer wins the title at the Ricoh Women’s British Open which begins at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club on Thursday.
Creamer arrived in Southport a matter of months after undergoing serious surgery on her left thumb but since her return to competitive golf in June she has won her first Major title at the US Women’s Open at Oakmont Country Club and now has her eyes on a second over a course where she finished tied 15th behind Korea’s Jeong Jang on her debut back in 2005.
“The thumb is not one hundred percent but it feels okay,” said Ricoh’s popular golfing ambassador, who first visited the Southport area as part of the US team that won the Curtis Cup at Formby back in 2004. “There’s still a lot of things I can’t do that I used to be able to do. But there are also things that I can do that I couldn’t do before and that might well have helped me at Oakmont”.
The was a time in the immediate aftermath of her operation that Creamer worried she might never return to competitive golf but while recuperating she began working on refining her mental game and she believes that process was instrumental in her victory over Norway’s Suzann Petersen and Korea’s Na Yeon Choi at Oakmont.
It’s a funny thing,” she said. “To begin with, I worried about it (the thumb) 24 hours a day. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, to watch people play golf but at the same time not knowing if I was ever going to be the same player that I was before.
“The uncertainty was a bit like a black cloud hanging over me but, while I wasn’t playing, I did have plenty of time to think about how I approached the mental game and I think that has definitely changed.”
Creamer now believes she has learned to be much more patient on the golf course.
“It’s something I lacked when I missed out (at previous Majors) at Interlachan, at Saucon Valley and at this tournament last year where I doubled the last, but which I used to my advantage at Oakmont.
“I feel that I have learnt my lessons from the past.”
Patience is essential on a links course of Birkdale’s stature and one competitor who has displayed that quality in abundance is Korea’s Jaiyai Shin who won the Ricoh British Women’s Open title at Sunningdale in 2008 and then finished tied 8th at Royal Lytham & St Annes last year.
Shin is like Creamer in that she arrived at Birkdale as one of the form horses in the women’s game having won last week’s Evian Masters in France to go back to the top of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.
The diminutive Korean has also been sharpening her mental approach in the lead up to the Championship and has no doubt Birkdale will suit her game.
“I don’t do as much practice as I used to,” she told the media on the eve of the Championship. “I found that when I practised a lot I got tired and it wasn’t good for my game. Now I spend more time working on a good strategy and that’s something I need here.”
“I’m really excited because the course is great,” she added. “Last year there were a lot of blind shots but here you can see the greens from the tees so it is easier to manage your way round.”
Another golfer who knows all about Birkdale’s nuances is English veteran, Laura Davies, who won the Ricoh Women’s British Open title over the course in 1986 and this year is making a record 30th consecutive appearance in the Championship.
The evergreen Davies has won twice on this year’s Ladies European Tour to take her tally of worldwide professional victories up to 74 and she sees no reason why her career cannot continue to blossom for some time to come.
“I’m here to win this week. If I didn’t think I could win there would be no real point in turning up,” she said.
“I’ve won a couple this year and I probably should have won a couple more. There’s still a lot to play for. Look at Tom Watson at last year’s Open. He was 59 then, or whatever, and I’m nothing like that. I’m not ready to pack it in yet.”
One golfer who is at the opposite end of the career spectrum is America’s Michelle Wie who is just 20 years of age and is still combining her professional career with her studies at Stanford University.
Wie made her Ricoh Women’s British Open debut at Birkdale back in 2005 and has warm memories of that visit because she finished in a tie for third place and won the Smyth Salver awarded to the leading amateur in the field. She has also been buoyed by both her first LPGA victory at the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational and by her successful appearance in last year’s Solheim Cup and confessed she will raring to go when she tees up for the first round in the company of Pettersen and Japan’s Rui Iijima.
“I’m excited to be back,” she said. “Before I got here, I started to think about the golf course and I realised pretty quickly that I could remember every single hole. I think that it’s definitely possible (that she could win). I just have to go out there and do my own thing.”
The last word goes to defending champion Catriona Matthew who like Davies, Creamer and Shin knows what it’s like to savour success in a Major and would like nothing better that to replicate that feeling again.
“It’s great to be back,” said Matthew whose victory last year at Royal Lytham & St Annes famously came just 11 weeks after she had given birth to her second child. “I’ve been thinking about it all year. It’s nice to get here and finally get out on the golf course.”
The Scot admits the abiding memory of her triumph was the reception she got from the exultant fans as she walked up the 18th fairway side by side with her husband and caddie, Graeme.
“That is something I will never forget,” she admitted. “I was lucky because once I had hit my tee shot I knew I had won it. I could relax and enjoy the reception. That was the best part of it all.”