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She was standing at the scorer's table at Wykagyl Country Club in New Rochelle, N.Y., on Sunday evening, having just learned that she was the youngest player ever to win a multiround (54 or 72 holes) LPGA event, when Paula Creamer, 18, suddenly faced a group of well-wishers--who sprayed her with champagne and beer. She walked away, not exactly caught up in the hoopla. "It got in my eye," said Creamer, who won the Sybase Classic by one stroke over Gloria Park and Jeong Jang. "It was awful. I smell like it."
For Creamer, who graduates from The Pendleton School in Bradenton, Fla., on Thursday, celebrations are secondary to what really matters. "The most important thing is to know how to win and how to compete under pressure," she said.
She's learning that quickly. The Sybase was only the ninth pro event for the rookie, who also became the second-youngest LPGA winner of any kind in 53 years. ( Marlene Hagge took the 1952 Sarasota Open two weeks after her 18th birthday and the '53 Bakersfield Open two months later--both 18-hole events.)
It may have seemed that Creamer and her dangly pink earrings came from nowhere last weekend, but her family has been grooming her for success. In 2000 her father, Paul, an American Airlines pilot, and her mother, Karen, moved the family from Pleasanton, Calif., to Bradenton so the 13-year-old Creamer could begin honing her swing at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. She won 19 tournaments as an amateur and was the top-ranked girls' player on the American Junior Golf Association circuit in '03. In December she won the five-round LPGA qualifying tournament in Daytona Beach by five strokes. She finished her studies at Pendleton in January and joined the tour full time.
Even before the Sybase, LPGA-watchers were comparing Creamer with another young earring aficionado--15-year-old Michelle Wie. Creamer needs to be more consistent with her irons but has a strong short game. "[Paula] has that fire burning inside," says her father.
The Sybase win brought her $187,500, a haul that raised her season earnings to $356,311 and moved her into fourth on the LPGA money list. After graduation, Creamer will head to the June 3-5 ShopRite LPGA Classic in New Jersey, at which she tied for second last year as an amateur. Her tour victory, says her father, will only ratchet up her expectations: "There's nobody harder on [Paula] than herself." It sounded that way on Sunday. "I don't know what else to do," she said. "I won. Next time I need to win by five?"
-- Yi-Wyn Yen