Paula Creamer watches her tee shot on the 18th hole during the second round of the Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning and O-I at Highland Meadows Golf Club on July 18, 2014 in Sylvania, Ohio.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Paula Creamer was 9 when she went to Atlanta to watch the U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Team, later dubbed “The Magnificent Seven,” win the gold medal in the team competition.
Creamer, then an aspiring young gymnast herself, found herself captivated by Kerri Strug’s vault and the Olympic Movement.
In a little more than two years from now on Aug. 5, 2016, on what would be Creamer’s 30th birthday, she could find herself in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Games. If this scenario plays out, however, it would not be how Creamer originally imagined. She would be there marching alongside of the gymnasts instead of as one of them.
“If I go to the Olympics now it would be in a totally different way,” Creamer, one of the top American golfers on the LPGA circuit, said. “Hopefully, I can be on that team.”
To compete in Rio, Creamer would have to be one of the United States’ top four golfers in the Olympic golf rankings. Golf is being reintroduced to the Olympic program after an absence that dates back to 1904, when the Games were held in St. Louis. Sixty golfers will make up the Olympic field, and a maximum of four golfers per country can be entered.
The first Olympic golf rankings for women were released Monday, and if that list was the one used for Rio, the U.S. team would feature world No. 1 Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thomspon, Michelle Wie and Christie Kerr. Of course, much could change between now and then, and Creamer, who has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the LPGA’s Rolex Rankings and is a U.S. Open titlist, could very well find her way to Rio after all.
“The Olympics have always been one of my dreams,” said Creamer, who was involved in gymnastics from the time she was 5 until she was about 12. “Just watching it. When I was a gymnast, obviously that didn’t get me very far, but I would watch them and just the pressure, the amount of time, just within yourself and then representing your country on top of that … I mean it’s the best of the best, and it would be a dream of mine to be able to play.”
There is no doubt Creamer is keeping a close watch on the rankings between now and Rio.
“You can’t get too far out of the race for it to get in,” said Creamer, currently 12th in the Rolex Rankings. “The criteria is pretty tough. You want to be within the mix. … It is a big goal of mine to be on that team.”
Creamer was drawn to gymnastics and later acrobatic dance at a young age, but when a growth spurt made her too tall for the sport — she is now 5-foot-9 — she left the high bar and balance beam in favor of the fairways. The switch proved to be a good move for Creamer. She was about 10 when she first started playing golf, and by the time she was 12 she had become the top-ranked female junior golfer in the state of California and moved to Florida to enroll in the prestigious IMG Academy in Florida.
Beginning Thursday, Creamer is one of four U.S. women competing in the inaugural International Crown, a match-play tournament featuring teams from eight countries. The event is unique for the LPGA with its patriotic flair. For practice rounds at the International Crown, competitors were sporting their nation’s colors on their hats and polo shirts. Creamer even donned a red, white and blue ribbon around her ponytail.
Playing for her country is something Creamer and her teammates are honored to do this week, and something they hope to do again in Rio.
American players do have the opportunity to play in the Solheim Cup, where they face European players in a team format, but this event is more about country versus country. Here at the Caves Valley Golf Club located in the Baltimore suburbs, women are representing not only the United States, Spain and Sweden but also Australia and four Asian countries that do not compete in the Solheim Cup.
Golfers expressed excitement about playing for their countries and are looking forward to playing in a team format. Some even wished that the Olympic format would be similar. The 60 golfers who qualify for Rio will play traditional stroke play and will be vying for individual spot on the medal podium.
“I think that match play’s great for TV,” Stacy Lewis said. “I think it’s one of those things that draws some people in that maybe wouldn’t normally watch. I would just like to see the Olympics, after the first year, maybe go to some … just have a team format to it. It’s a 72-hole stroke-play event, which we have enough of those throughout the year. I would just kind of like to see it differentiate itself from everything else.”
Of course, Lewis wants to be a part of the Olympic experience no matter what the style of play is, but she also knows a lot can happen between now and 2016.
“It’s a bit surreal,” Lewis said of thinking about an Olympic opportunity. “To think that you could be a part of the opening ceremonies and the closing ceremonies, those kinds of things that you see on TV, just to be a part of that and to stay with all the other athletes. It’s hard to really even imagine it because obviously we never have been there.
“But at the same time, you don’t want to think about it too much because then you start putting too much pressure on yourself. But it would be really cool to represent your country there.”
Lexi Thompson, currently fifth in the Olympic golf rankings, is looking forward to teeing up Thursday and hearing the national anthem when Team USA begins its quest for the International Crown title.
“It's just going to be an amazing experience,” Thompson said. “But to wear that crown on Sunday will be the highest honor that I can have to win it for my country.”
Of course it will be until the Olympic Games come around.
If the Americans win Sunday, Creamer said she might even do a cartwheel on the golf course.
“She’s got a pretty cartwheel,” Lewis said with a laugh.
Should Creamer make the U.S. Olympic Team a little more than two years from now, she just might do another cartwheel in Rio. But just in case the gymnastics team doesn’t need an alternate, she’ll pack her golf clubs, too.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she covered her fifth Olympic Games in Sochi. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.