U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
California Dreams: A Long-Awaited Homecoming for Golden Staters
July 4, 2016 | SAN MARTIN, CALIF.
By David Shefter, USGA
Only Pennsylvania (84) has hosted more USGA championships than California (76), but the U.S. Women’s Open had been contested in the Golden State just twice before this week’s championship at CordeValle. That hasn’t kept the state’s Bay Area from providing a strong pedigree of USGA champions.
In an 11-year period from 1980-90, Northern Californians won a combined seven U.S. Women’s Amateurs, including three in a row by World Golf Hall of Famer Juli Inkster. Inkster later claimed a pair of U.S. Women’s Opens in 1999 and 2002. Between 1985 and 2000, Northern Californians also won five U.S. Girls’ Junior titles.
That success inspired the likes of Christina Kim, who hails from the Bay Area and is thrilled to be playing a “home game” this week at CordeValle. Kim, 32, a three-time winner on the LPGA Tour, grew up in San Jose, 30 minutes from CordeValle, and attended DeAnza Community College in Cupertino.
“Look and see what Juli Inkster has done, what Pat Hurst (1986 U.S. Girls’ Junior and 1990 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion) has done,” said Kim, whose love of the Bay Area is illustrated by the San Francisco Giants towel hanging from her golf bag. “It’s given me a lot of faith and encouragement.”
Kim, who first played in the U.S. Women’s Open as a 17-year-old amateur in 2001 (T-50), would certainly be a popular champion this week. Her first LPGA Tour title came in the Longs Drugs Challenge in Sacramento and over the past month, she has produced four top-6 finishes, including a runner-up showing in the LPGA Volvik Championship in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“I’d like to think people root for me everywhere, but it’s pretty exciting to be out here,” said Kim, who is popular among fans for her outgoing personality. “Getting a chance to compete in my National Open regardless of the location is a great honor, but being able to do so just outside of where I grew up is pretty spectacular.”
Paula Creamer was not yet born when the previous two Women’s Opens were played in California: in 1964 at San Diego Country Club and in 1982 at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento. Instead, another USGA championship provided her inspiration.
Paul Creamer brought his only child to the 1998 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, not far from the family’s home in Pleasanton, long before she became an elite amateur player.
Eleven-year-old Paula was awed by the spectacle, from the large crowds to the quality of the golf on display. It inspired her to someday play at that level.
“That was the greatest thing my dad and I ever did together,” said Creamer, the owner of 12 worldwide titles, including the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open six years ago at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. “I thought this was the greatest thing ever and I knew I wanted to be on that stage.”
Creamer, 29, no longer resides in Northern California – she moved to Florida 16 years ago when she enrolled in a golf academy and has remained in the Sunshine State. However, this Women’s Open is a homecoming she has had circled for several years.
“It’s awesome to be a hometown girl here,” said Creamer. “You can’t ask for anything more than to play in your national championship, and when they say ‘Pleasanton, California’ on the first tee it’s going to be really cool.”
Along with Kim and Creamer, reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Hannah O’Sullivan, 18, spent the majority of her childhood in the Bay Area and still has a junior membership at The Olympic Club. The 2016 USA Curtis Cup player moved to Chandler, Ariz., four years ago, but her father, Greg, was born in San Francisco and she has plenty of family in the area.
Spencer Heller, 25, was born in Turlock, 80 miles from CordeValle, and was a four-time NCAA Division II All-American at Sonoma State.
Three others players in the field attended or will attend Stanford University, in nearby Palo Alto. Michelle Wie, the 2014 Women’s Open champion, graduated from Stanford in 2012, while amateurs Albane Valenzuela, 18, of Switzerland, and 2016 USA Curtis Cup player Mika Liu, 17, plan to enroll there in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Wie said she revisited the campus on Sunday before starting her Women’s Open preparations.
Many others in the field have California ties, including 2014 Women’s British Open champion Mo Martin, 33, of Pasadena, whose roots in the Golden State date to the 1840s when her forebears traveled by covered wagon from Ohio and settled in the state’s Central Valley.
“Maybe I will have some ancestors looking down on me from above,” said Martin.
Playing at home has its benefits and drawbacks. With the increased support from family and friends come distractions, such as more media attention and more ticket requests, not to mention heightened expectations from both outside and within.
“For me, it’s just remembering not to put too much pressure on myself,” said Creamer, who played CordeValle last year at the invitation of 2015 USA Solheim Cup Team captain Inkster. “I tend to do that and I get in my own way.”
All of the players said that once they step on the tee Thursday, all of the peripheral stuff will go away. Kim’s caddie, T.J. Jones, noted that she is “really good” at putting outside distractions to the side.
Among her challenges this week has been fulfilling ticket requests. While she moved to Orlando, Fla., in 2004, Kim has a lot of extended family in the area.
“I don’t have a figure,” she said of the number of requests. “I’m still working on it.”
A month ago, O’Sullivan got a rare chance to play in front of much of her father’s extended Irish family when the Curtis Cup was contested at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club outside of Dublin. This week, the world’s No. 1 amateur expects a nice gallery of family and friends for her third U.S. Women’s Open start.
“We’re trying to accommodate everyone,” said O’Sullivan after playing nine holes on Monday. “I’m really excited just to be playing this week. Growing up, this is the tournament I’ve always dreamed about playing.”
The location just adds to her excitement.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.