Paula Creamer hits a pitch shot on the 13th hole during a practice round at the 2021 U.S. Women's Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (Darren Carroll/USGA)

The Pink Panther is back and ready for the U.S. Women’s Open!

Cover photo courtesy of USGA/Darren Carroll

I had the joy of writing stories about Paula Creamer from the time she was a youth golfer playing out of what is now known as The Club at Castlewood.

At the age of 12, Creamer won 13 consecutive regional junior events in Northern California. The next year she became the top ranked female golfer in California before moving on the IMG Pendleton School in Bradenton, Florida.

She joined the LPGA Tour in 2005 at the age of 18 and when she won the Sybase Classic, she became the LPGA’s second-youngest event winner.

In her professional career she has won 10 events and has been as high as No. 2 in the world rankings. She won the 2010 U.S. Open at Oakmont, certainly the highlight of her career.

Recently she has been battling injuries, having wrist surgery in 2017 after having the wrist plague her for two years. She finally appears to be happy with her game.

Creamer, now 34-years-old, has always been a great interview throughout the years and her “Pink Panther,” persona has always made her a favorite of junior golfers around the world.

If she is in contention Sunday, expect the Bay Area crowd to be vocally behind her!

Creamer addressed the media Wednesday afternoon at the Olympic Club.

By Dennis Miller

THE MODERATOR: Welcome back to the 76th U.S. Women’s Open media center. We are joined by 2010 U.S. Open champion, Paula Creamer. Just talk about being here in San Francisco at Olympic Club.

PAULA CREAMER: It’s great to be back home. I haven’t been back for quite a while, and my first stop was Togo’s. It’s like my favorite sandwich place in the world. I went straight there from the airport.

It’s nice to be back in the Bay Area. This golf course is in spectacular shape and makes it even better to come back for your National Championship to be at such a prestigious golf club.

Paula Creamer and her caddie discuss direction 9th hole during a practice round at the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (Darren Carroll/USGA)

Question: Talk about the course, how it’s playing and how it suits your game.

PAULA CREAMER: The course superintendent and the staff and everybody has done such a spectacular job. It really is a great test of golf. It challenges every part of your game, and that’s what you want in a championship. It’s been fun. With the par-3 and last night with the taste of San Francisco, it’s kind of weird, it doesn’t really feel like a U.S. Open yet. I mean, the golf course definitely does, but all these fun activities, it’s been really nice.

It’s been great to actually see the Olympic Club take ownership of all of us, which is cool.

Question: We talked about your exemption coming back home. Now that you’re here, how does it change the dynamics? Was there any moment where you thought, Wow, I’m really back in the Bay Area for the Women’s Open?

PAULA CREAMER: I guess getting on the airplane. I don’t normally come out that early, but I came out on Saturday. That doesn’t normally happen that you get to a tournament that far in advance, but this time I did.

I played on Sunday. Any time you walk, or I guess you say drive your car into where the U.S. Open is, there’s a special feeling and a vibe, and the fact it is here in the Bay Area, it was special. But at the same time, I’m here to play a golf tournament too, and I feel really good.

I love the golf course, so I’m excited for it to start.

Question: How much history do you have at this course? I mean, I live in the East Bay; you grew up in the East Bay. You don’t always get to San Francisco much. How much have you played here before?

PAULA CREAMER: I’ve only played here once, and that was at Cristie Kerr’s event in 2017. I came out to watch the men’s Open in ’98, but at that time I was 12, 11 years old. It wasn’t like my dad was going to say, Let’s go play Olympic Club. That wasn’t going to happen.

So quite truthfully, I really don’t have that much history here. It was always something I’d want to do, but at that age I never got the opportunity.

Question: Paula, some people say there’s a unique flavor to San Francisco style golf, whether it’s the weather, the quirky courses, or whatever. Do you agree with that? If so, how does this course, from what you’ve seen so far, kind of exemplify?

PAULA CREAMER: For sure. When you’re standing on the driving range it’s 15 degrees cooler than when you’re over standing on 15 green or whatever. It is. The ball doesn’t fly as far. There is mist that comes in. It’s awesome to see the fog kind of roll through the trees. You don’t get that everywhere you go. That’s definitely a San Fran trait.

And just the trees and the architecture and the landscaping, all of that, it’s very to San Francisco, it’s very specific with that.

But the golf, I mean, the grass is perfect. The greens are awesome. The rough is thick, and that has a lot to do with the weather here as well.

Question: What impact do you think it has on women’s golf that the 11- or 12-year-old girl following you guys this week will never know that she can’t play Oakmont, Pebble, Olympic Club, that none of these courses are — all these courses are available to her?

PAULA CREAMER: I’m sorry. Can you —

Question: What impact does it have on the women’s game broadly that, unlike you, the 11-, 12-year-old today —

PAULA CREAMER: Knows the opportunity, okay.

Question: Knows they’ll be able to play these iconic courses. I’m sure at 11 you never thought you would win a U.S. Open at Oakmont.

PAULA CREAMER: I was playing nine-hole NCGA tournaments, and I was ready for them, pulling my pull-cart around. Actually, it is great to see there is that opportunity and how far along golf has been growing. There are so many great golf courses in the Bay Area.

I know, obviously we’re surrounded with the four here in the San Francisco area, but just even when you go where I’m from, Castlewood, down the street, there’s five or six awesome golf courses there.

It shows that clubs are bringing younger kids in and they’re allowing junior golf to grow because, without that, who’s going to play on the LPGA and PGA TOUR? We have to be able to open the doors for young kids and getting on those harder golf courses and those prestigious golf courses is difficult, but these days when you’ve got some talent, you can get out there and be able to do that.

Paula Creamer hits her tee shot on the 18th hole during a practice round at the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (Darren Carroll/USGA)

Question: Paula, I would never suggest that what you did was ever easy, but you made it look easy at one point in your career. Now that you have a little more perspective and have had to battle through some injuries, how has your perspective changed about the game and what it takes to win an Open?

PAULA CREAMER: It’s funny you say that, because this is my tenth year since winning the U.S. Open, or 11th we’re going on, but I look at my career and I would say to myself, If I was younger then to enjoy those wins more. I was just so focused all the time. You win on a Sunday, and it’s like the next tournament starts Monday.

I never ever really ever sat there and patted yourself on the back. Going through injuries and all of that, it’s tough, and you never know if you’re going to be able to play again the same. I feel the best I’ve felt in probably six years, quite truthfully, and that’s saying a lot.

It’s nice to actually be able to come out and play a golf course and not have to hurry home and ice and do rehab and all of this to my body. I can actually go practice again if I want.

I do think that my career — you know, I worked really hard as a kid and I worked really hard as an amateur. Coming out on Tour my mindset was only to win golf tournaments. As I get older things obviously change, and injuries do play a part of that. Like I said, I wish when I was a little younger, I would have said, Hey, way to go, good job, instead of saying, why couldn’t I win by five or something like that? Instead of being so hard on yourself.

Question: The fact that you’ll always be introduced as 2010 U.S. Open champion means something, doesn’t it?

PAULA CREAMER: For sure. It gives me goosebumps thinking about it. The competitor in me wants to have it so it’s like 2020, not 2010. I feel like that’s a long time ago. I want it now.

But at the same time, you’ve got to take it day by day kind of thing. My second tournament back after a long break, and my expectations are very similar to at Oakmont. I don’t really have any right now, and I just want to get out there and play with no pain.

Question: Any concerns about the thick rough with your past wrist injuries?

PAULA CREAMER: I haven’t — I’m not going to lie, I didn’t sit there and hit 100 balls out of the rough to see what I could do. I probably hit about 10, 15 shots over the last several days. If it gets in there, I’m not going to try to be a hero; take what it gives me.

Question: How important is it to you that your U.S. Open title came at Oakmont? In a way, how important is venue to the players?

PAULA CREAMER: Venue is everything. I believe that. Winning at Oakmont is — I mean, you couldn’t ask for a better place. Obviously, being from the Bay Area, having my name on the trophy here would be just as special, but I think, at the same time, if your names on the trophy where the U.S. Open’s at, you’ll take it.

Question: We’ve obviously talked a lot about the nostalgia of you coming home, but so many players have talked about the difficulty of this course. How much of an ask is this, given how long you’ve been out, given your injuries? This doesn’t seem like the greatest place to try to find your game. Given that, I know you just referred to your expectations, but given where you are in your comeback and the challenge of this course, how does that sort of mesh?

PAULA CREAMER: My golf game is actually really good right now. It’s solid. It’s consistent. My biggest thing is just getting back to playing tournament golf. I think people don’t realize it’s so much harder picking numbers, picking shots, with your caddie, this and that, being so precise.

I’ve been home playing the same golf course pretty much every day, and I know how far the ball flies. I can pick a target. Getting back into that routine, I think, is harder than actually playing.

So, like I said, that part is rusty for me. My actual golf game is not rusty. It’s more of just the process of going about picking shots and executing them, and when you’re seeing different angles around greens and things that you’re so used to week in and week out, I really haven’t had that for quite a while.

That’s where I think that the more tournaments I play, the better I’ll get.

Question: What does your playing schedule look like after this week?

PAULA CREAMER: I’m going to play a full schedule and play in the next several weeks. Next week at Lake Merced and then Grand Rapids. I’ll be playing quite a bit.

Question: I know you talked about ’98 Open, attending with your parents. Do you have a specific memory of that? Do you remember seeing a certain player, a hole?

PAULA CREAMER: Actually, it’s funny. I remember my dad taking me to the merchandise shop and saying, Okay you can get whatever you want. I got an umbrella (laughter).

That’s your typical Nor Cal girl right there, knowing she’s going to need an umbrella to go play golf. We still have the umbrella. It’s crazy. Stars and stripes, red, white, and blue, the Olympic Club on it. It’s bigger than me. It was so heavy, but I wanted that umbrella.