It seems almost inconceivable to think about the possibility: Could a Solheim Cup really take place without Paula Creamer?
After Alison Lee passed Creamer in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings for the last guaranteed spot after the Cambia Portland Classic, the possibility is real. As it stands now Creamer’s got a week to either earn back her spot or endure the uncomfortable uncertainty of hoping for one of United States Captain Juli Inkster’s two picks.
Since her rookie season in 2005, Creamer has never been in this position. She’s earned an automatic qualifier spot and been a cornerstone, if not the leader, in each of the last five Solheim Cups. As the daughter and wife of a veteran, nothing means more to Creamer than her country and the opportunity to represent it. Throughout her 10-year career on Tour, the image of her with her trademark red, white and blue bow and American flag on her cheek has become nearly indelible to her persona as a professional golfer.
While it admittedly seems unlikely to think Creamer, one of the greatest American players of the last decade, and her 12-6-5 Solheim Cup record wouldn’t earn a spot on Inkster’s team, this United States team is stacked with 15 of the top 50 players in the world. It doesn’t take difficult math to know that three of those will leave the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open disappointed that they won’t be on that plane in three weeks to Germany.
“Well, I think I’ve got to just really see how the whole Rolex Rankings shake out and how the points shake out, and then we’ll go from there, what we need to do,” Inkster said. “There’s probably five players on the bubble right now. You can look at the points and you can look at – it’s Austin Ernst, Mo Martin, Paula, Brittany Lang, Christina Kim and Jessica Korda. They all know it. It’s out there for everybody to see. You know, I’m looking for them to see a little bit of light, how they’re playing.”
As difficult as limbo on the brink is for those players, it’s equally difficult for their Captain. Few, if any, on Tour are as beloved and affable as Inkster. She gets along with everybody and everybody wants to play for her. It’s why in an LPGA career spanning over three decades, she’s said there’s no doubt telling four of those that they won’t be on her team will be the most difficult thing she’s ever had to do.
“Oh, definitely, by far,” Inkster said. “You know, it’s something – I’ve always got along great with everybody and always have a good time out here, and I know I’m going to disappoint a few girls that have played great. But they’ve had two years to get into the points, so it’s not all on me. But on the other hand we’ve had these practices and we’ve had these dinners. You get used to being on a team, and then I tell you you’re not on the team, it’s going to be tough.”
Tough, no doubt, but it makes for one beautifully juicy plot at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open. In a tournament with a field as strong as this one, everything can change quickly. Lee, a rookie, is a perfect example. She was on the outside looking in heading into the Meijer LPGA Classic but posted top-10s in two of her last three events to move into the last automatic qualifying spot.
“I’ve been very impressed with her play,” Inkster said of Lee. “I’ve been watching her the last half of this year, and you know, the good thing about it is she has played well and she’s only had this year to do it.
“I’m very happy that she’s in. Well, right now. I think she’ll complement a lot of good players. I think you can really put her pretty much with anybody, chipping she’s good, putting she’s good, and she’s got a little bit of an inner fire, which I like.”
The tricky part of the equation for Inkster is it’s not all about what’s going on here and now. More than anyone she knows the ebbs and flows of the game, and what she’s looking for in the team room as well as the course. She’s also been on both sides of the Solheim Cup equation as a player – both as an automatic qualifier and a captain’s pick – and knows the pressure that comes with the final week.
So, in the meantime, she’ll focus on her own game as a fellow competitor in the field this week and simply let the chips fall as they may at the end of the week.
“It’s going to be hard. There’s a lot of girls playing well right now, and I only have two picks,” Inkster said. “I’m not looking forward to it. I’m already stressing about it. I’ve got to go with my gut and go with who I think is going to fit in best with the team and what we need in the team. It’s never fun to disappoint anybody, so it’s going to be a tough week for me.”