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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Nothing comes close to winning a U.S. Open

Paula Creamer, the 2010 U.S. Women's Open champion,

Paula Creamer, the 2010 U.S. Women's Open champion, reacts during a practice round at the 2013 U.S. Women's Open. (June 24, 2013) | Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Imagine having the luxury of tutoring from Albert Einstein on the eve of a math test, or getting the author to help you write that book report. That was something like what Paula Creamer experienced during her practice round for the U.S. Women's Open Monday.

She got to learn the Sebonack Golf Club course while listening to Tom Doak, who co-designed it.

It was a nice gesture from Doak, who got in touch with Creamer's agent and offered to walk the course and give some tips. It is just the sort of help that anyone would want, heading into the hardest, biggest and most important event in women's golf.

With all due respect to other tournaments, especially the newly expanded list of four other women's major championships, the phrase "U.S. Open'' is life-changing.

There is a reason that Ernie Els, a two-time winner of the men's Open, said at Merion two weeks ago, "Put U.S. Open in front of it and everybody gets nervous.''

There is a reason the Open has become a painful obsession for Phil Mickelson, as it did for Sam Snead.

There is a reason why Creamer dropped her putter and let her emotions flow when she sank the putt that made her a U.S. Open champion in 2010.

She knows that "U.S. Open champion'' stays with you forever.

"Yes it does, for sure,'' she said Monday after finishing her round and thanking Doak, who co-designed Sebonack with Jack Nicklaus. "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves coming into a U.S. Open, especially as Americans. It's our national championship."

On the LPGA Tour, major championships come and go. This year, for instance, the Evian Masters has been designated a fifth major, receiving that status based on the amount of prize money that is being offered. With the U.S. Open, though, nobody ever had to designate anything. It was, is and will be the greatest women's major. It is the only one of the five that has no sponsor. It stands on its own momentum.

In fact, it has become the de facto national championship of the U.S. and South Korea. The Open has such pull that when Se Ri Pak won at Blackwolf Run in 1998, it sparked an explosion of golf interest among women in her country, which has in turn changed the game.

So Yeon Ryu, for instance, had just taken her first swing three days earlier. Thirteen years after that, Ryu won the Open, which is in a class by itself. There are reasons for that.

"First, the setting. The greens are very fast. Second would be the big crowds. Third, glory,'' she said after her practice round, punctuating the last point with a wide smile.

Doak wanted to provide whatever help he could to a fellow American (he also gave advice to Brittany Lincicome, who was playing with Creamer).

"The most important thing is not to put any negative thoughts in their heads at all,'' Doak said. "There are places you don't want to be, around the greens when the pin is in certain places. But you have to be like a caddie and just say, 'Keep it right center.'

"You have to think about not making bogeys rather than thinking about attacking the hole. There are one or two hole locations on the greens you want to attack; there are others where you have to say, 'No, I'm taking the middle of the green.' ''

Creamer was as honored as she was pleased with the advice. "This golf course is amazing, and knowing little insights here and there, it helps,'' she said. "That's such a huge honor, to have a designer who wants to come out and watch you play. I was a little nervous out there. I was trying to hit it perfect.''

She knows, of course, that the Open does not demand perfect shots, only perfect patience. For any golfer, a win on Sunday at a U.S. Open is the perfect ending.

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