ATLANTA - There were no champagne toasts last Sunday after Paula Creamer won the Sybase Classic in New Rochelle, N.Y. At 18, she's not old enough to drink alcohol, rent a car or sit with the high rollers in a casino.
Creamer is part of the new face of the LPGA Tour, a face that looks more like a page from a high school yearbook.
While the LPGA Tour remains firmly in the grip of Annika Sorenstam, a wave of young players - some who've stepped straight from the playground - hope to take golf to its next level.
There are five full-time teenage players on the LPGA, and that doesn't count 15-year-old Michelle Wie, who is concentrating just as hard on making her mark on the men's tour. Three teens are ranked among the top 82 money winners on the LPGA Tour, including Creamer, who is fourth with $356,311. Wie would be among that group with her fourth-place finish this year at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, but she's still an amateur.
Other teens include Aram Cho, Brittany Lincicome, Aree Song and Naree Song. All are 19.
Said Christina Kim, 20, who finished fourth at New Rochelle, "The way I see it, if you're out here, period, if you can make it out here, I don't care how old you are. If you're a rookie or 48 years old, 18, 17 years old, if you can come out here, I'm impressed, period. Everyone has the skill to win out here, is the way I see it."
Six days after her stirring victory in the rain and cold, Creamer was back at high school for graduation.
"It's going to be fun going home, that's for sure, for graduation," she said. "I get to go home and see my friends and things like that. Obviously, it's an ending of a chapter in my life, and I think that it's very exciting for myself and my family, too. College would have been a lot of fun. It would have been a great experience. I just don't know if it was for me at this time."
She admits taking classes during the week and playing golf on the weekends was an extraordinary schedule for someone who just two months ago had to chose between her senior prom or hitting range balls. But it worked for her.
"I've done it the perfect way for myself, maybe not for other people," she said. "I think my family and I have paced out a pretty good plan for myself. I think for me it's normal, but I think for anybody else, it's far from normal. It works with my schedule, and it's all I'm used to. I think the other kids who don't go to academies and things like that, their life is normal. But to the normal 18-year-old, it's definitely not the same.
"(When I was 16 or 17) I always wanted to go to school. I really want to go so to Stanford and Duke and Oklahoma State. Those are my three choices I was leaning towards. You know, it's just I started playing well in some of these events, and I gained confidence in myself and I took second at ShopRite, and then the 13th at the (U.S. Women's) Open, and that opened my eyes up a little bit more, and went to Q-school and played well."
Creamer became the second-youngest player to win an LPGA tournament with a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole. She had a similar putt a year ago at the ShopRite Classic to be the youngest, but missed. Marlene Hagge, then 18, still has the LPGA record with her win at the 1952 Sarasota Open, but there are plenty of other young players who can threaten that.
"I just think that all sports ... is going towards that trend where you see more people in baseball, basketball, football coming right out of high school and into the professional ranks," 27-year-old Cristie Kerr said. "I think golf is just one of those sports that it's happening to. And I think golf is becoming more of an athletic sport where the golfers are considered athletes also, and not only golfers. Everyone is into physical fitness and working out and implementing that into their game.
"So I think that is one of the reasons why you are seeing younger players come out on tour is because they are starting them with physical training and the preparation and the new equipment and stuff at a much younger age than they did for us."
The youth movement also comes mentally prepared. Unlike generations before them, they don't come with hopes of surviving, they come with expectations of winning. And more.
Wie not only wants to win on the LPGA Tour, she has plans to play against the men in the Masters and other PGA Tour events.
"As long as I stay an amateur, I can qualify (for the Masters Tournament) by winning the men's U.S. Amateur or the men's U.S. Public Links," Wie told ESPN. "I get bored easily. I like challenges. I've played against the men my whole life. I want to play against the best players in the world, men and women."
So far, Creamer said the older veterans have accepted her on the tour.
"They have welcomed me," she said. "They have all come up to me and introduced themselves. I've gone up to them and things like that. They share stories with me, and they share the insight of what they think I should do in terms of just any kind of thing if it's out on the golf course."
Creamer said the current youth movement will only grow, much like the continuing wave of high school players jumping to the National Basketball Association.
"I'm not sure what's really going to happen, but I see more and more that's what's probably going to happen," she said. "There is more and more chances for us to be able to see what it's like out here."
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