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2010 U.S. Women's Open Triumph Gives Creamer Elusive Major Title April 18, 2016 | Far Hills, N.J. By Bill Fields

This story recounting the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open Championship, where Paula Creamer prevailed by four strokes, is the eighth in a 16-part series detailing every USGA championship contested at Oakmont Country Club in suburban Pittsburgh, which is hosting its ninth U.S. Open in June.

Because she was only 23 years old, it was hard to believe that the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open Championship was Paula Creamer’s eighth appearance in the championship. But Creamer was on the front end of a stunning youth movement in women’s golf, with players immersed in the game early and competing at an elite level as never before.

Creamer turned professional at 18 and won her first tournament five months later, becoming the youngest winner of a multi-round event in LPGA Tour history. By the time the U.S. Women’s Open returned to Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh, for the second time, the California native had eight career victories and was one of the most popular players in golf. The only thing missing was a major title.

In storybook fashion at Oakmont, Creamer got it, overcoming the memory of past troubles in the championship – and a surgically repaired left thumb – to earn an  impressive four-stroke victory over Na Yeon Choi and Suzann Pettersen.

“It’s incredible, it really is,” Creamer said after posting 3-under 281. “I’ve always been a pretty solid player, but that question always lurked: ‘How come you never won a major?’ And now we have, and we never get asked that question again.”

Only slightly more than three months earlier, the question wasn’t if Creamer was going to break her major drought – she was 0-for-24 at that point – but whether her health was even going to permit her to compete. In late March, Creamer had surgery to fix two torn ligaments in her left thumb. Her doctor was amazed that she had been playing prior to the operation given the extensive damage.

Immediately after surgery, Creamer set her sights on being ready for the Open’s first round on July 8.

“It just shows how much the mental side of golf can really take over,” Creamer said. “I believed I could do this when I had a cast on my hand. What I just kept thinking about was ‘Oakmont, Oakmont, Oakmont.’”

Photos: Highlights from 2010 U.S. Women's Open

The 1903 H.C. Fownes design, which boasts some of the most challenging greens in the U.S. – speedy, sloping surfaces that can confound even the best putters – was a heady place to target a comeback. The Women’s Open was only Creamer’s fourth competition since surgery. “I don’t even think I’m 80 percent,” she said of the thumb. “I think I’m about 60.”

No one could have known given Creamer’s steady performance. She opened with a 1-over 72, just three strokes behind Brittany Lang, the only player to break 70. Creamer’s second-round 70 moved her into a tie for the lead with Sakura Yokomine, of Japan. Friday play was interrupted by severe weather, as 2 inches of rain fell that afternoon and evening.

“It’s not an easy Oakmont, it’s an easier Oakmont,” said USGA Executive Director Mike Davis of the course conditions following the deluge.

Indeed, only Creamer, Wendy Ward and 15-year-old phenom Lexi Thompson, making her professional debut, bettered par among the contenders with 70s in the third round, which was completed Sunday morning due to the weather delays. Creamer took a three-stroke lead over Ward into the final round, with Amy Yang, Christina Kim and Pettersen four strokes behind. Creamer shook off two consecutive three-putts to birdie the closing hole of the third round.

“It’s a tough course, but it’s playable,” said Pettersen. “I think it just separates the best players from the rest. I wish we played more courses like this.”

Pettersen was a fan despite a poor performance on Oakmont’s greens. She averaged 34 putts a round, her 136 being 15 more than Creamer’s 121 total. Pettersen’s putting sabotaged her chances quickly in the final round. She missed three chances inside 5 feet on the first six holes, including a 4-footer for eagle on the 252-yard, par-4 second hole.

Choi, who would win the championship two years later at Blackwolf Run, posted a championship-best 66 on Sunday, but she entered the round seven strokes behind Creamer.

Thompson, who wowed fans with her power, also lost her chance to win after starting the final round in sixth place by requiring 36 putts Sunday. “I had no idea what I was doing,” the teen said candidly after finishing tied for 10th. “I had no speed control, and I missed a lot of 4-footers.”

Meanwhile, Creamer knew exactly what she was doing with every facet of her game, which contrasted with two high scores that plagued her on the weekend of the previous two championships. In 2008, she shot a final-round 78 in the last pairing. In 2009, a third-round 79 ended her title hopes.

Those hiccups seemed a distant memory as Creamer methodically went around Oakmont despite considerable pain in her thumb, which had been stressed by 29 holes on Saturday. Her lead never got smaller than two strokes, and back-to-back birdies on Nos. 14 and 15 gave her a cushion down the finishing stretch.

Creamer’s tears after the final putt were for a dream fulfilled, a dream that might have been interrupted.

“Yes, there was a time before my surgery where I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I may never play golf again,’” she said after a final-round 69. “But it was what I had to do, and here we are with a U.S. Open championship. So it’s been pretty cool.”

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who contributes frequently to USGA websites.