It wasn’t her first choice or her second. But when given a third choice, Juli Inkster went with experience and a hot hand.
When Inkster announced her captain’s picks on Sunday afternoon in Scotland after the Ricoh Women’s British Open, she said that the hardest part was telling many great players at her disposal that they wouldn’t be on the team. One of those was Paula Creamer, veteran of six Solheim Cup teams with a 14-8-5 record. Creamer, according to Inkster was “disappointed” by being left off the team.
But when Jessica Korda, who has been battling a forearm injury since the U.S. Women’s Open, told Inkster that she could not play, it gave the captain and the veteran a second chance.
In accordance with the captain’s agreement, Inkster had placed an alternate in an envelope.
“The person I put into the hat was Paula Creamer,” Inkster said in a conference call from San Diego on Tuesday afternoon. “The reason why I put Paula in the hat was she’s been there. She knows what’s going on. She has the experience.
“She’s playing well. I didn’t know when Jessica was going to make this announcement and I just felt Paula, if she had to come in on Wednesday night and tee it up Friday, she could handle that.
“I needed experience. I needed someone who was not afraid to step in at that point and contribute to the team.”
Creamer had a miserable season through mid-July, missing seven cuts and cracking the top 30 only two times. But her game seemed to turn in the two events in Scotland before the Solheim Cup. She tied for 13th place in the Ladies Scottish Open and tied for 16th in the Women’s British Open with only one suspect round in that two-week stretch, a 75 on Saturday at Dundonald Links in weather that would have sent the sheep inland for cover.
“When I (asked) would (Paula) be an alternate if Jessica could not play, she was 100 percent in,” Inkster said. “That speaks highly to Paula. Everybody on the team is excited to have her and knows what she brings.”
Creamer was no mystery. Inkster not only chose her to be part of the 2015 Solheim Cup team in Germany, she put Creamer out first on Friday and in the anchor match on Sunday. Creamer won two crucial points, including a 4-and-3 drubbing of Sandra Gal in singles.
Having chosen rookie teenager Angel Yin as one of her captain’s picks, Inkster needed experience in an alternate, especially with Korda being questionable.
“I saw (Jessica) on Wednesday of the British Open and I said, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ I knew her forearm was not great at the U.S. Open,” Inkster said. “So she said she took two weeks off and didn’t hit a ball. She said it felt great and everything was going good. Then on Thursday, I saw her in the physio room. I guess she hit a shot and aggravated it. So that’s really what I was worried about, that she felt great and there was just one shot that (set her back).
“As Paula knows, when you’re in the Solheim Cup, you’ve got to be ready to play 36 holes. You’re playing a lot of golf. I was worried that one shot and I could lose (Jessica) for the week.
“That was the only message (from Jessica) I really got. Then when she withdrew and flew to Prague, I stayed in communications with her. But I did not know the extent of (the injury) until I talked to her on Sunday night.
“When (Jessica) let us know (that she was withdrawing), it was big on her part because she could have waited to see if her injury healed,” Inkster said. “But she let us go ahead so (Paula) can get ready for the team. I mean, for (Jessica) to think about the team first and not herself, I have big admiration for that.”
It’s been a full range of emotions for Creamer. But unlike 2015, she will enter these matches with confidence in her game.
“It is a very weird feeling,” Creamer said. “You don’t want one of your teammates or your friends to be hurt but that’s why you have alternates. But I’m very honored. I’m ready to wear red, white and blue for the seventh time. I’m looking forward to being out there. But it is sad under these circumstances for Jessica.
“Last time (in Germany) I knew my game … it wasn’t my best. Now I’m in a place where I’m in total control. I feel so confident. It’s just a very different situation in terms of where I am mentally and physically. The fact that (Juli) gave me a chance then and now means everything.”
“I’ve got a lot of faith and a lot of confidence in Paula,” Inkster said. “She reminds me a lot of myself as far as heart and grit. I know she never gives up. If I had to have anybody make a four-foot putt on the last to win the Solheim, I have complete confidence that Paula could do it.”
Inkster now will put another name in the alternate envelope. Just in case.