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Giving it back: Golf's 'Pink Panther' invests in future stars

By Karla Villegas Gama, for CNN
March 23, 2012 -- Updated 1816 GMT (0216 HKT)
Golf star Paula Creamer visits Guadalajara every year for the LPGA Tour's Lorena Ochoa Invitational tournament, and works with local kids there. Golf star Paula Creamer visits Guadalajara every year for the LPGA Tour's Lorena Ochoa Invitational tournament, and works with local kids there.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. golf star Paula Creamer aims to help new generations of players to develop
  • She invests time and money in working with young children in U.S. and Mexico
  • The 25-year-old says it is a humbling experience to work with kids
  • Creamer has donated scholarships at the academy where she learned the game

(CNN) -- Paula Creamer has gained a lot from golf. At the age of just 25, she has already earned nearly $9 million.

But the American, dubbed the "Pink Panther" due to her on-course attire and love of a certain fluffy toy, also gives a lot back in return.

"If you ask me who's Paula Creamer, the golfer, I'll tell you I'm the player who wants to give back to kids as much as I can," she told CNN Mexico.

The 2010 U.S. Open champion dedicates a lot of time, and money, to helping future generations make their way in the game as she has done.

"It's one of the most humbling experiences I've ever had," the world No. 6 said. "There's more to the game when you're playing in front of kids.

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"Golf is about the young kids, it is about growing the game, letting it play 100, 200 years from now."

That's why she has invested part of the $8.7 million she has earned on the LPGA Tour in helping others. For instance, she has offered scholarships at Florida's IMG Leadbetter Golf Academy, which she attended.

The sky is the limit

One of the kids Creamer has worked with is Ana Claudia Rodriguez, an 11-year-old who plays at Mexico's Guadalajara Country Club, the same course where two-time major winner Lorena Ochoa grew up.

"Paula has motivated me with advice and I have been playing better golf ever since I met her," she said. "I've won five tournaments on different (Mexican) courses."

Rodriguez is the only girl to have won the award for best student at the Guadalajara Country Club golf academy.

"Paula is interested in my education, she asks me what (scores) I'm shooting and tells me that the most important thing is to have fun, to have a good attitude, but most importantly, to have a good time whenever I play golf."

Rodriguez only gets to see Creamer once a year, when the LPGA circuit comes to Mexico for the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Guadalajara. She and her brother Santiago skip school -- with their parents' permission -- to get a glimpse of their favorite player.

The most significant thing Creamer has shared with Ana and Santiago, besides several gifts like balls, caps and even the Pink Panther she carries on her bag, is to "never give up ... The sky is the limit to achieve your dreams."

Inspire others

At the age of eight, Julie Steinbauer never imagined that meeting Creamer -- who at the time was 17 -- would change her life.

Paula has motivated me with advice and I have been playing better golf ever since I met her
Ana Claudia Rodriguez

Creamer was playing the Junior Orange Bowl International Championship in Coral Gables, Florida, but food poisoning forced her to withdraw.

"She went out to watch," Steinbauer remembers. "I hung out with her and she was very nice to me the whole time."

Two months later, "I went up to the David Leadbetter Golf Academy and practiced with her for a couple days."

However, it wasn't until she started playing golf in high school she realized how much of an impact Creamer had made in her life.

Steinbauer could have been interested in one of the other 140 golfers that play regularly on the LPGA, but says "Paula is very relatable.

"She is young, energetic, and very kind... now I can always think back and remember how dedicated she was in high school."

One of the most valuable pieces of advice Cramer gave Steinbauer was to respect the rules.

"I was playing with a friend of mine in a tournament and she tried to get away with cheating until I stopped her.

"Paula wrote me back saying, 'I heard that you had some rules problems but you did the right thing. Never let someone get away with breaking the rules, even if they are your friend. It might be one of the hardest things to do, but the rules are there for a reason.'"

Education is the cornerstone

Joseph McKenney, 19, studies engineering at Embry-Riddle University, in Daytona, Florida. He knows that without Creamer his academic life might have not been the same.

Without her generous support, I doubt I'd be halfway through my second year at a private engineering college
Ross McKenney

"Without her generous financial support, I seriously doubt that I would be halfway through my second year at a private engineering college," he said.

At 13, when McKenney was in 8th grade, Paula offered two one-year scholarships to attend the Leadbetter academy, located in Bradenton, Florida.

McKenney competed with five other kids and, after several interviews and essays addressed to the Creamers, he got the financial aid.

His progress, on and off the course, was so good that Paula decided to extend the scholarship through the rest of high school -- another three years.

Besides playing golf at the academy, McKenney "realized that my career goal was to become a golf course architect."

His admiration for Creamer grew quickly as he realized that she was determined to help others off the course.

"Paula and her family were also actively involved in our local chapter of The First Tee (a youth development program). Each year, they would help us to raise money for it," he said.

Now, McKenney analyzes the way Creamer handles media. "She was always so poised, looking directly into the camera, and speaking clearly. I have used that model in speeches for fundraisers, for classes in school, and in speaking to people with whom I have a business-type relationship."

Long distance

Christina Basara lives in Oklahoma City, but she has not been able to attend an LPGA event. Nevertheless, Creamer is a huge inspiration to her.

"She makes me think about golf and she makes me want to play golf more," the eight-year-old said.

But how can a girl who has never met her idol feel this way?

Her coach, Stephanie, is responsible for introducing her into Creamer's world. Her husband Doug, an LPGA rules official, contacted the golfer and her family.

"She wrote a note to me and what it says is 'practice hard and have fun' ... she gave me her shag bag with a lot of pink golf balls," Christina said.

Heather, the girl's mother, believes Paula is an example of "a woman who has worked hard to be able to do what she enjoys most."

Creamer's attention and advice has helped Christina identify golf as a game for girls. She has made quite an impact.

"I dressed up like Paula Creamer for Halloween, I like her a lot."

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