Skip to main content

'Pink Panther' finds inspiration in overcoming adversity

By CNN Mexico's Karla Villegas Gama
  • Paula Creamer reveals that she was in the depths of despair as she battled injury
  • The "Pink Panther" suffered from a virus then an agonizing thumb injury
  • Surgery earlier this year sidelined the 24-year-old for nearly four months
  • She returned to triumph in the U.S. Women's Open at Oakmont in July

(CNN) -- Success and fame came easily to golfer Paula Creamer, but this year an agonizing thumb injury threatened to end her short but glittering career on the LPGA Tour.

In an exclusive interview with CNN Mexico, the American revealed how she battled back from the depths of despair to achieve her greatest triumph, winning the 2010 U.S. Women's Open at Oakmont in July.

The 24-year-old started her sixth year as a professional with an already impressive record of nine LPGA Tour wins and three appearances in the Solheim Cup teams event -- not to mention her reputation for wearing iconic outfits, hence her nickname "Pink Panther."

Success in one of golf's majors seemed only a matter of time, but she was still being affected by the lingering effects of a stomach virus contracted in late 2008.

"I lost so much weight, and then I would gain so much more that my hands had to take over my golf swing because my body was not strong enough," Creamer said.

Tseng crowned Rolex Player of the Year

This ultimately caused her initial thumb problem, which grew worse in the early part of this season.

"I was at the Tavistock (Cup) party, I had a plate on my hand -- I was holding it with my left one -- and it just fell out," she said.

It was the hardest year in my life, but it's one of the greatest things that has happened to me
--Paula Creamer

"That's when I said 'OK it's time, I can't do this any longer.' It was hard but I could look in the mirror and say 'I did everything I could, I need to have surgery' and five days later I was in the O.R."

The surgery was supposed to last 45 minutes, but instead took three and a half hours.

She woke up with her arm in a full cast and with such real fears for her golf career that she thought, "Well, I guess I can take over my fashion career 100% if this is going to happen."

Creamer's parents Paul and Karen even took away her golf clubs to stop her rushing her recovery, meaning she needed to find a new focus away from the sport.

"I took cooking lessons, decorated my home, got to spend a lot of time with my friends, went to the Masters for the first time, did amazing things with my sponsors ... I tried to keep as busy as I possibly could," she said.

Slowly but surely, the thumb grew better and Creamer was able to return to competitive golf.

Incredibly, only four weeks after her comeback, she was holding aloft the U.S. Women's Open crown after a brilliant display, carding three under par over 72 holes on a tough course.

"I worked so hard in my mind for that tournament, and everything I wanted to do was winning in Oakmont. I proved that patience does win major championships," Creamer said.

But at the back of her mind, thoughts of her injury and surgery were never far away.

"Holding the U.S. Open trophy was amazing, but being in that cast made me want that trophy even more," she said.

"I've really learned to have balance -- it can't be golf every minute of my life, I need other things that can help me step back a bit and be excited more."

Creamer was originally a gymnast and cheerleader, but gave up dreams of winning an Olympic gold medal to turn to golf at the age of 12.

"Golf is an individual sport with no judges, you have to do things for yourself, you have to get aim for perfection all the time, and I love that," she said.

There were inevitable sacrifices on the way.

It meant goodbye "to sleepovers, school dances and that sort of thing. You get older and in high school you have proms and all that, so you have give up things that you want to do at that moment but later on the road you look back on it and you realize it was the right decision."

With a natural talent, Creamer prospered in the amateur game, winning a clutch of U.S. junior titles before turning pro in 2004.

In the LPGA qualifying school of later that year, Creamer gained her full tour card and has been a major force in women's golf every year since winning during her debut season in 2005.

She has represented her country three times against Europe in the women's version of the Ryder Cup.

I want to be somebody you can look up to and say 'I want to be like her'
--Paula Creamer

"I'm very patriotic. I love wearing red, white and blue, and when you're sitting on the first tee and you hear 'Paula Creamer representing the United States' it gives me chills. You're part of a team, you're playing for your country, there's no money on the line and I just love it."

Creamer's flamboyant clothing range has earned her top marks in the fashion stakes and a number of lucrative contracts, but she has a serious side and is determined to be a good role model.

"I want to be somebody you can look up to and say, 'I want to be like her.' I want to inspire them. If you're not able to do it then there's something kind of wrong with you. It's very hard but very rewarding."

She uses social networking website Twitter to communicate with her many followers and give advice where she can.

"It's a great thing. If you can reach out to your fans, let them know who you are, well you can talk to them about things they would normally not get an answer about," she said.

"We're very lucky to have all that technology and I do feel it's important to take advantage of it."

Creamer is set to be around for many years to come to give such encouragement, but the 120 days she spent in virtual retirement as she battled back from surgery will never be forgotten.

"Everything that has happened recently has been a blessing a disguise," she said. "It was the hardest year in my life, but it's one of the greatest things that has happened to me."