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Teen Creamer sets sights on Sorenstam's domain

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Paula Creamer waved her father over to the water's edge. She coaxed her coach and caddie too.

In childlike wonder, she pointed at a pair of black swans gliding along the lake behind the 16th green at Trump International. The men paused briefly, nodded politely, then marched on during a practice round Tuesday for the ADT Championship.

Creamer remained behind, a solitary figure relishing one of the quieter moments in her dizzyingly successful rookie season.

"I can't believe it's almost Thanksgiving," Creamer said. "That's crazy. It's flown by. To be able to say that I've been, geez, to a couple countries. It's like wow, when did I do all that?"

Welcome to Creamer's world, where precocious skill skews time.

At 19, in her first full year as a pro, she is among a new wave of skilled youth hurrying toward stardom.

Just two years ago, she was the American Junior Golf Association's Player of the Year.

Today she's aiming to knock Annika Sorenstam from the LPGA's mountaintop.

Creamer is a two-time winner this season, equaling Cristie Kerr for most victories outside Sorenstam's nine. Creamer is second on the money list and will go off in the final pairing with Sorenstam in Thursday's first round.

While respectful of Sorenstam, Creamer doesn't hide her ambition.

"Annika knows that people are gunning for her," Creamer said. "There are just so many people who want (No. 1 status). I know that I want it really badly. I know that I will do anything I can to get me to the point where Annika is. She's just a couple steps ahead of me."

Creamer still travels to every event with her parents. She can look every bit the teenager with her affinity for pink (she always wears something pink). But she already has the savvy of a veteran inside the ropes.

"She doesn't have any fear," LPGA veteran Pat Hurst said. "A lot of girls who come out on tour now, they're so young, but they're already so experienced."

Creamer is a testament to the evolution of junior golf. A graduate of the IMG Academies and a regular on the AJGA Tour, Creamer is a product of what has become a highly sophisticated junior game. She won 11 times on the AJGA circuit.

Creamer played in 29 events as a junior one year, traveling across the country and overseas. That's more than most LPGA pros play.

"They're like closet pros," Herb Krickstein says of today's elite juniors. Krickstein is grandfather and coach to Boca Raton's Morgan Pressel, who will be honored Sunday as AJGA Player of the Year.

"The AJGA does a tremendous job of getting these kids ready," Krickstein said. "The ... goal is to prepare juniors for college and get them scholarships, but for the few with special talents, there are wonderful competitions that help those players get ready for the professional ranks."

The AJGA started with two tournaments and a handful of members in 1978. Today it hosts 75 tournaments and has more than 5,000 members.

"We have eight or nine tournaments where you can truly say we have the best juniors in the country and, at times, from around the world," AJGA Executive Director Stephen Hamblin said. "That competitive environment fosters certain great attributes. We want players to learn to win and lose with grace and dignity, and that's what they are doing."

Creamer is showing the quality of that education.


(c) 2005 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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