Americans love a good comeback story and are sure to go for this one since it involves them. This is the tale of the U.S. comeback in women's golf.
Pat yourselves on your backs, folks, before we walk to the podium to pick up our Comeback Country of the Year award. We earned it.
First, Cristie Kerr won last month's LPGA Championship by a laughable 12 strokes and became the first American to rise to No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings.
Then, on Sunday, Paula Creamer backed that up by winning the most prestigious event in the game, the U.S. Women's Open, at the best course in championship golf, Oakmont, near Pittsburgh. (Sorry, Pebble Beach, your teeny-weeny greens are mere picnic tables compared with Oakmont's undulating amusement-park rides.)
Other than the occasional Solheim Cup victory, U.S. women haven't had much to brag about of late. From 2005 through '09, Americans won only four majors, and no American has finished first on the LPGA money list since Betsy King in 1993.
U.S. golf needed this run, as the women's game has outgrown the country that put it on the map. Only five of the top 20 players in the Rolex Ranking are Americans, and barely half (14 of 25) of the LPGA's tournaments are played in the U.S.
Kerr's ascension and Creamer's breakthrough win—she defeated Na Yeon Choi and Suzann Pettersen by four shots—are unlikely to slow the LPGA's globalization, but at least those accomplishments provide a red-white-and-blue break from business as usual. Says Kerr, "I think we can finally stop answering, When are the Americans going to come up to the challenge?"
Adds Christina Kim, who tied for eighth at Oakmont and was one of 10 Americans to crack the top 20, "Everyone has been talking about the Asian invasion and how there aren't enough good American players. This is huge."
The win may prove especially big for the 23-year-old Creamer, who has been largely overlooked since a four-win season in '08. Creamer was an instant star when she turned pro after high school in 2005 and became the most recognizable U.S. player, next to Michelle Wie, with her Pink Panther nickname and motif. Now that she has a major to go with eight other LPGA victories, the popular Creamer, who jumped to seventh in the Rolex Ranking, is well-positioned to become the new face of the LPGA.
Last week Creamer got help from an icon when she showed up for the junior clinic the day before the first round. She asked Arnold Palmer, a Pittsburgh area native, What do you have to do to win at Oakmont? "He told me, 'Keep your head down and don't three-putt,' " Creamer said.
Creamer three-putted once and was third in the field in total putts. She won the game concocted by her caddie, Colin Cann, who wanted her to play against Oakmont's par instead of against her competitors. She closed with three straight subpar rounds—70, 70, 69. "She beat Oakmont, 3 up," Cann said proudly.
Oakmont's loss is America's gain.
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Ranking the 59s
1. Al Geiberger, second round, 1977 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic. He was golf's Roger Bannister. Persimmon woods, balata ball, 102° heat and a 7,249-yard course, one of the Tour's toughest. So what if they played lift, clean and place.
2. David Duval, final round, 1999 Bob Hope Classic. How good is a five-iron to six feet for eagle on the final hole for 59 and the victory? Yeah, pretty good.
3. Paul Goydos(below), first round, 2010 John Deere Classic. Playing lift, clean and place last Thursday, Goydos birdied eight holes on the back. "I don't know where that came from," said Goydos, who finished two shots behind Steve Stricker.
4. Chip Beck, third round, 1991 Las Vegas Invitational. On a short, featureless course with no rough and no wind, Beck would tie for third.
FRED VUICH (CREAMER)
SILKY SMOOTH The steady Creamer had only one three-putt on Oakmont's treacherous greens.
LOUIS BREMS/SOUTHCREEK GLOBAL/ZUMAPRESS.COM (GOYDOS)