Golf: Rio is Creamer's No. 1 'major'

Paula Creamer
Paula Creamer

Down to No. 63, she's determined to climb golf rankings after lean year to make US team

Golf's return to the Olympic Games has divided opinions about its importance among several top male players but in a show of support, American star Paula Creamer has proclaimed the Rio Games to be her main priority for 2016.

And she added that it would be an incredible honour to represent her country at the world's biggest sporting event, even as she is fighting to get out of a slump in form before the Olympics' qualification window slams shut on July 11.

"To do that (qualifying for the Olympics) I need to start playing well and winning again," the 29-year-old said yesterday in a conference call with local media ahead of this year's US$1.5 million (S$2.16 million) HSBC Women's Champions in March.

But getting to Brazil will be a difficult journey for the former world No. 2, following a disappointing campaign last year where she failed to win any title and saw her ranking slide to 63.

The Olympics will feature a 60-player field for both men and women, with each country limited to two entries. The cap is raised to four only if all the players are ranked within the top-15.

Currently, Stacey Lewis (world No. 3), Lexi Thompson (No. 4) and Cristie Kerr (No. 11) are slated to represent the United States.

Another seven Americans are ranked ahead of Creamer, whose last victory was the 2014 HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore.

The 2010 US Open champion missed a career-high five cuts last term, including four in a row from the British Open in July to the Evian Championship in September, and did not record a top-three finish for the first time in her professional career.

Her 2015 season earnings of US$363,485 (S$513,886) were also the lowest since she joined the LPGA Tour in 2005.

Creamer said: "I've never really struggled like that before. I'm usually very consistent but I was all over the place last year and I started putting too much pressure on myself."

Despite her struggles, she made the US Solheim Cup team last September as one of Juli Inkster's captain's picks and repaid the faith by delivering the winning point in the final singles match against Europe's Sandra Gal.

That vote of confidence has been crucial as she sought to rebuild her game, admitted Creamer.

SIXES AND SEVENS

I've never really struggled like that before. I'm usually very consistent but I was all over the place last year and I started putting too much pressure on myself.

''PAULA CREAMER, on arguably her worst year on the LPGA Tour.

"When I needed to perform I did and that showed me I still had the fight in me. I worked really hard in the off-season and I feel strong. My body's in great shape and mentally I'm back to where I want to be."

She hopes to display similar fortitude when she returns to the Sentosa Golf Club's Serapong Course and the March 3-6 HSBC tournament would be the perfect stage to end her two-year winless drought.

She added: "I have a lot of happy memories in Singapore. The golf course really suits my game and I can't wait to go back and do well."

It would also aid her chances in securing that coveted Olympic spot and a showdown for gold against the likes of world No. 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand and second-ranked Park In Bee of South Korea.

The Koreans, with eight players in the top 15, will likely field the maximum quota of four golfers in Rio, but strength in numbers meant little to Creamer.

She said: "It's still an individual tournament and if you play well, you're going to win."

Last month was her first wedding anniversary but with so much unfinished business left in the game, she has no plans to start a family yet.

"There's still so much I want to do in golf," she added.

An Olympic gold medal would almost certainly be top of her list.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2016, with the headline 'Rio is Creamer's No. 1 'major''. Print Edition | Subscribe