Paula Creamer, 18, says she views Hawaii teen Michelle Wie as just another player in the 132-player field at this weekend's SBS Open at Turtle Bay.

This teen’s
a real pro

Paula Creamer, the teen rival
of Michelle Wie, makes her
professional debut here
this week

Michelle Wie has an exemption to play in the LPGA Tour's first major championship of the year a month from now.

Paula Creamer does not.

SBS Open

When: Today and tomorrow, 7:10 a.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.

Where: Turtle Bay Palmer Course

Purse: $1 million

Tickets: Daily, $5; four-day pass, $15; 15-under free when accompanied by ticketed adult

TV: The Golf Channel, 1:30-4 p.m. Hawaii time

That speaks volumes about this budding rivalry and the different paths these two took toward stardom. While Creamer rode the Tiger Woods cart path to success one fairway at a time, Wie played through on numerous sponsor's exemptions right into every living room in America.

Both journeys proved viable.

The talented Creamer dances her way onto golf's professional stage at today's $1 million SBS Open, but her gallery will be a wee bit smaller than her younger counterpart's, even though Creamer deserves to be front and center.

The fact that they are just two of 132 golfers trying to finish atop the leaderboard come Saturday is of little consequence for an American press bent on finding Ali-Frazier among the green pastures of women's golf. Otherwise, what's the point of making a comparison that won't really matter until Wie turns pro full-time?

"I don't really think about rivals or she's about my age, I really need to separate myself," Wie said. "I just think about my own game and what I have to do to be better. It's just me and the golf course. It's always going to be me fighting against myself."

For the hardworking Creamer, life as a professional golfer began at 1:19 this afternoon. She needs to be among the top 15 money winners after the first three events this year to join Wie at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA's first major, the last weekend in March.

If the 18-year-old Creamer feels slighted by this turn of events, you won't hear anything from her. Creamer prefers to let her golf clubs make the wisecracks as she attacks the challenging Arnold Palmer-designed course for at least 54 holes.

"Right now, I am trying to think about this golf tournament," Creamer said, when pressed on the Wie rivalry. "There are 132 people in the field. She is just one of those other players. There is only one winner."

You get the feeling Creamer practiced for the Wie question with family and friends the night before. She said all the right things at all the right times. In her mind, it is Wie who should be trying to beat her, not the other way around.

Creamer has been beating the brains out of the competition ever since she threw away her dancing shoes to wear spikes full-time at the age of 12. She left behind the mantel as the best women's amateur player to become the youngest golfer to win the LPGA final qualifying tournament.

She held a three-shot advantage entering the final 18 of the grueling 90-hole test played at Daytona Beach, and eventually passed the pressure-packed test with a five-shot victory. Creamer pointed to the 19 national junior titles, including 11 on the American Junior Golf Association circuit, as one reason for emerging on top.

Any thoughts of going to college were erased with this performance. She will graduate from high school in May and will likely have more cash in her purse than anyone else at her senior prom. She and success are already old companions.

"I am very excited to be here," Creamer said. "It is kind of like a dream come true. I put a lot of hard work into it and my expectations are very high. My main goal this year is Solheim Cup, so I am just trying to get my feet on the ground the first couple of weeks and get out there and start playing."

The fact that Wie is in the field only adds to the intrigue of the local golf fan. In her younger days, Creamer took exception with the Wie hype: "It gets old. You look everywhere and there she is. I play against the best juniors in the world and she's just another junior. I don't place her on a higher plateau."

Creamer has learned to temper her remarks, especially after a 6-hour plane ride from South Carolina to England for the Curtis Cup. Her plane partner was Wie. The two got to know each other well enough to say nice things about each other. But as in any rivalry, you can only go so far.

"We are very good friends," Creamer said. "We have a lot in common. We both love golf and we are both young. We talk a lot, (but) on the golf course everybody is trying to beat everybody. It is all fun, I think, (but) for me I try to win."

Even though there are many notable veterans in this week's first full-field event, including U.S. Open champion Meg Mallon and Nabisco winner Grace Park, there's no denying a youth movement is taking over the LPGA. Creamer could be the eventual leader of this brat pack, but still has to prove she can handle the rub of the green.

"It is good to be part of a newsworthy-type thing," Creamer said. "It is great. I like to know that there are a lot of other junior girls and amateur girls who are trying to do the same thing that I am doing."

While all-time leading money winner Annika Sorenstam sets the standard, it's not hard to imagine Creamer being a mentor for a generation of young golfers. Her goals this year to be a member of the Solheim Cup, land rookie of the year and finish among the top 10 money winners seem attainable for someone who has won every step of the way.

"I think (Annika) has definitely raised the bar for women's golf and for all golf, really," Creamer said. "Especially for me, she has set the standards high and that is what I want to do."

Sorenstam already taught Creamer a valuable lesson at last March's Nabisco. Playing on a sponsor's exemption, Creamer was partnered with Sorenstam in the third round. Instead of focusing on her own game, the fan in her took over as she watched every move Sorenstam made on the golf course.

The result was a 3-over 75.

"I can only take care of what I can do, get used to being out here," Creamer said. "And playing my own game and trying to accomplish the goals that I want to accomplish."

And for this tournament?

"It is a very nice golf course," Creamer said. "It sets up well for my game. I like a challenging golf course and that is what this is."

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