Players heap praise on area fans for their support at U.S. Women's Open in Lancaster
LANCASTER — Paula Creamer was beginning her practice round about an hour after the sun rose at Lancaster Country Club on Tuesday morning.
Before she could, however, she had to stop and sign close to 30 autographs for eager fans, catching her by surprise.
Creamer's reaction to the passionate crowd support during the first two days of practice rounds leading up to the 70th U.S. Women's Open was seconded by many of her peers. Reigning champion Michelle Wie described the anticipation of record crowds as "exciting," while Morgan Pressel "loves" the galleries that have shown up over the past two days.
Even before tournament week began, it was announced that 2015 would set a new event record for most tickets sold. The sheer quantity of tickets sold showed how supportive the central Pennsylvania community was to have a sporting event of this magnitude venture into the area. Still, the excitement that the patrons displayed just during the practice rounds so far is even putting the players in awe.
"You can tell, though, the way — just going around the community to different places — the way they're embracing us, and they're excited about us being here, it's really cool," world No. 3 Stacy Lewis said. "I think this type of town and this venue is a great place for us."
The crowds will only continue to grow as the week progresses, especially when practice rounds give way to tournament rounds. With very little space between holes, the large crowds could create some incredible drama and loud reactions down the tournament's stretch.
"It's going to be great to hear the crowds go wild when they see birdies on 18 or when we're teeing off on 1 or 10," second-ranked Lydia Ko said. "I think it's going to be great. And it's really part of this major and what makes it so great."
There's still another day to go until the first round of action begins on Thursday, but the large crowds are already making some players look ahead to what Sunday could have in store.
"The fans, they're incredible," Creamer said. "I think Sunday coming down there, it's going to be exciting."
Players enjoying the area: One aspect of having a golf tournament in a new city is the unfamiliarity to the area that the players have.
For that reason, it presents a great opportunity for the players and their families to get out and be tourists in their down time.
While free time is scarce leading up to Thursday's first round, a few of the players are still venturing out and enjoying a few of the attractions that Lancaster and the rest of central Pennsylvania have to offer. One of those players, Cristie Kerr, is a new mom, so when practice and preparation on the course end and she arrives to the home she's renting, her son Mason takes priority.
"I wanted to take Mason and my family over to the little dairy farm so he can see the cows and the goats and the sheep," she said. "Just kind of try to do some fun local stuff. He got to — the house that we're staying in is near some fields and my family got to take him, when I was practicing yesterday — to go pet some of the donkeys. They were plowing the field, so that was kind of cool."
The idea of getting out and seeing the community isn't just a way for the players to see the sights, but also a way to take their minds off of golf for a few hours. For a tournament such as the Women's Open, preparation is so crucial, that too much preparation has the potential to mentally drain a player and take them off their game before the weekend even arrives.
The top-ranked player in the world, Inbee Park, knows how draining it can be to prepare to win a major. She's won six major championships, including the previous one this year, the KPMG LPGA Championship, so balancing business and pleasure is something she's learned to maintain.
Before coming to the area, her perception of Lancaster mirrored that of many outsiders, who have only heard about the alternative lifestyles and cultures in the region. Still, she took time away from preparing for the championship when she was in town last month.
"I think it's really special, because I've never been to Amish town before," she said. "I actually had a tour when I came here five weeks ago. I went to their house and had a tour around the house. It was just cool. It's different way to live."
Other players haven't quite had the time to see the area yet, but the week is still early.
"I haven't gotten much time to go out and sight see a little bit," Lexi Thompson said. "But, hopefully I will."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker