WILLIAMSBURG — As a pro with nearly a decade of experience on the LPGA Tour, Paula Creamer is used to the constant maintenance and frequent tinkering with her golf swing that serves as standing operating procedure in her business.
Beyond the obsessively perfected mechanics of a tee shot or a fairway iron, and the steely on-course exterior, there's a young lady who enters this week's LPGA Kingsmill Championship with a lot of emotions to handle.
The River Course at Kingsmill holds a unique spot in Creamer's psyche and heart. It's a place where she finished fourth in 2006 and '08, and came in second last September after a nine-hole, two-day playoff with eventual winner Jiyai Shin.
It's also a spot where her paternal grandfather, Tom, got to see her play — a 6,384-yard tour of good memories of a man who meant so much to her, balanced with the pain of agonizingly close calls in competition.
Tom died in March last year at the age of 94. Creamer still wrestles with the reality of not having one of her biggest supporters around.
"It's hard to talk about my grandpa because he just meant so much to me," Creamer said Wednesday at Kingsmill. "Yeah, it's been a hard year.
"People forget you also live in a real world, too, and dealing with things like that — it's hard. It's very difficult when you are in the public eye trying to deal with certain things like that and trying to play golf against the best players in the world and trying to get better. Learning how to handle all of that is something that I've been getting pretty good at, trying not to show too much emotion with it."
Though she has found ways to deal with her emotions, this year has been a struggle, too. Just before Easter, and on the brink of the first major of the year at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Creamer's maternal grandmother, Florence Stanton, died from complications related to Parkinson's Disease.
Creamer, who tees off Thursday morning at 8:36 on the first tee in a group with Inbee Park and Cristie Kerr, went on to finish 13th in the Kraft Nabisco Championship — her best career finish in the tournament — but she's still playing with a heavy heart.
"They have the best seat in the house," said Creamer of her grandfather and grandmother leading into the Kraft Nabisco Championship. "They're walking the fairways with me."
While she works through her heartbreaks off the course, Creamer is also doing everything she can to find the magic that made her a regular holder of the winner's check in her early years on the tour. After winning nine times in her first six years on the LPGA Tour, she's now gone 60 consecutive tournaments without a victory.
"I think for a while there I thought about (not winning) way too much, and I'm just trying to become a better player for myself, trying to get out there and do what I know I can do," said Creamer, whose last victory came in the 2010 U.S. Open.
"Just have to work harder, have to make more putts, have to hit more greens and be in the winner's circle. Sounds easy, right? Going out and doing it is a little bit different."
Shin, who has won 11 times on the LPGA Tour, picked up her ninth career win last year at Kingsmill. Despite her career success, she understands what it means to deal with a long winless drought. She hadn't won for nearly two years prior to the Kingsmill victory.
"I was really hungry for the win at the time," said Shin on Tuesday when reminiscing about her playoff last year with Creamer. "Also, Paula, she (was) also very hungry for (the) win, because we didn't win (the) last couple years … When I look at her … she fought very consistently."
With a desire to break her winless stretch, Creamer has gone about the process of revamping her swing and re-tooling her golf bag. She worked with swing coach David Whelan last year to develop one swing with her driver off the tee, and another tightened swing for her fairway irons.
Prior to the start of this year, she switched nearly every club in her bag, including her irons, driver, 3-wood and 5-wood. She described the mass equipment change as "something you have to go through."
It's not as if Creamer hasn't remained at the pinnacle of her sport. Since winning the U.S. Open in '10, she's had 21 top 10 finishes, and she enters Kingsmill at No. 11 in the world rankings.
Staying close to the top of the leaderboard, and learning to deal with pressures off the course, are a few of the reasons she feels like all the hard work she's pouring into her game will eventually pay off.
"These are changes that hopefully in five, six years I can look back on and be like, 'It was the greatest thing I've ever done' " Creamer said. "Is it the hardest thing? 100 percent. Why would you want to fix something that wasn't broken? ... You've just kind of got to jump over some hurdles here and there and you'll get through it."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun