WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — For virtually her entire career, Paula Creamer has been a lock to play in the Solheim Cup.
But her results have declined and U.S. captain Juli Inkster told her that for the first time she wouldn't be playing. Then Jessica Korda withdrew because of a forearm injury, and Creamer was on the team.
Creamer, the first alternate to play in the top team event in women's golf, is the lowest-ranked American on the squad. The biennial tournament between the U.S. and Europe begins Friday at Des Moines Golf and Country Club. Creamer is intent on showing she can still play at golf's highest level.
"It's an interesting feeling," she said. "After everything got announced I put my big-girl pants on and was like 'All right. Let's go do this.'"
The 31-year-old Creamer looked ready to be the next face of U.S. women's golf following a stirring debut. Twelve years later, she is looking to rediscover the form that made her such a bright young star.
She won her first LPGA event less than a week before graduating from high school in 2005, becoming at 18 the youngest winner of a multiround event in tour history.
Creamer soon reached $1 million in earnings faster than any LPGA player. She was also the youngest golfer to qualify for the Solheim Cup, going 3-1-1 for the winning U.S. team 12 years ago.
Creamer won six more times in 2007-08. In 2010, she captured her first major, the U.S. Women's Open, despite an injured left thumb that required surgery. The injury flared again a few years later. A wrist injury followed last season, the collective setbacks throwing Creamer off her rhythm.
She has won only once since 2010, and last season made just 17 cuts in 24 starts. She had just one top-10 finish in 2017, giving Inkster little choice but to leave her off the roster.
But Korda re-injured her forearm at the British Open, the final event before the Solheim Cup, and Inkster thought her experience in the women's version of the Ryder Cup would be an asset.
"I know what I'm getting with Paula," Inkster said. "It's not the best situation to be in because I had to tell her I didn't pick her, and I let her yell at me for a little bit. But ... I just felt like she would be the one who is used to being under the microscope and the pressure, and I just thought she could be able to handle it."
Creamer's Solheim Cup record remains solid despite her struggles. She's 14-8-5, with winning records in four-ball, foursome and singles competition. Creamer also finished in the top 16 in her last two tournaments, the Scottish and British Opens, suggesting she could be getting hot just when Inkster and her teammates need her.
"I've spent hours and hours and hours and hours these past three, four months practicing," Creamer said. "I feel like I'm in total control of where I'm putting the golf ball, and that's pretty neat."