2006: LPGA Million-dollar baby

By Beth Ann Baldry

West Palm Beach, Fla.

It was Tuesday at the ADT Championship. Julieta Granada stood on the practice green at Trump International and talked about how difficult it can be for international players to get sponsors on tour. The rookie from Paraguay landed her one and only sponsor, Odyssey, last summer at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you do,” said Granada. “If you’re not doing anything, nobody is going to come to you.”

Five days later, Granada gave companies a reason to come calling. The fiery South American earned her first victory on tour by outlasting the world’s best to take home the biggest payout in LPGA history: $1 million.

That’s 5,629,800,000 Guarani back home in Paraguay.

“My mom and my dad made so many sacrifices for me,” said Granada. “I can’t even explain it. I mean this money, it’s unheard of.”

Even veteran players figured they’d be thinking about money on the golf course for the first time in their careers at Trump International. It was hard not to with a box filled with $1 million sitting on the first tee.

“Obviously, it was in the back of your mind all day,” said Karrie Webb of the winner’s check. “Because of that, you knew it was in the back of everybody’s mind.”

Granada sailed into Sunday with rounds of 70-69-69 to tie for second. But the scores were wiped out heading into the final round, and Granada began the last day on equal footing with the likes of Player of the Year Lorena Ochoa and the Hall of Famer Webb.

Ochoa predicted a strong start would be needed to come out on top and Granada delivered with a 2-under 34 on Trump International’s opening nine. Down the stretch she knocked in a testy 5-footer for par on the intimidating par-3 17th to take a two-shot lead over Ochoa.

Standing in the fairway on the 18th with water staring her in the face, Granada backed off her 5-iron when a roar erupted on the 16th after Ochoa made birdie to cut her lead to one. Granada rifled her approach to the back of the green and made a clutch two-putt par to post a bogey-free 68.

Meanwhile, both Ochoa and Webb found the water on No. 17 and watched $1 million wash away.

“I think she loves pressure,” Ochoa said of Granada, her playing partner in a rowdy final round in Mexico earlier this season.

The 32-player field was determined by splitting the LPGA season into two halves. Fifteen players from each half qualified for the field along with two wild-card selections. Granada qualified during the second half of the season and came into the event No. 19 on the money list.

The field was cut to 16 players after two rounds, and a six-way playoff was needed to determine the last three spots. Ochoa, Juli Inkster and Morgan Pressel survived the playoff to see another day. Annika Sorenstam didn’t even make it into the playoff.

Saturday evening, Granada was the last woman standing on the practice green. She and her parents were trying to fix their video camera to tape her putting stroke.

They weren’t looking for anything in particular, it’s just part of their routine. Rosa, her mother and caddie, simply tapes Julieta’s stroke from various angles for two minutes apiece.

As the pair argued over whether the camera was cleaning itself, Rosa jokingly said, “It’s a good thing she doesn’t act like this on the course.”

The mother-daughter tandem has come a long way since Julieta received a scholarship to the David Leadbetter Academy six years ago in Bradenton, Fla.

Her father, Alejandro, stayed back home in Asuncion to run the family restaurant. For the first six months, Rosa rented a car every week and Julieta worried they were spending too much money. So they bought a bike to get around town and rented a car only to travel to tournaments.

“We rode the bike around for a year,” said Granada, who turned 20 Nov. 17 and still doesn’t have her driver’s license.

Granada spent much of her time in Bradenton in the shadow of Paula Creamer. At junior tournaments, the ever-present Rosa could be heard in the gallery yelling “Super, Super” with a thick accent. Granada won the 2004 U.S. Girls’ Junior and decided to forgo a scholarship to the University of Arizona and turn professional in summer ’05.

She played the remainder of the year on the Futures Tour with her mother carrying the bag. Granada closed with four consecutive birdies to win the season-ending championship and $10,500, the largest purse on tour. She went on to qualify for the LPGA at Q-School and played in 30 events this season, recording seven top-10 finishes. She can’t imagine where she’d be without Rosa inside the ropes.

“I’m very calm around her,” said Granada. “I would find comfort just looking at her.”

Granada’s victory at the ADT vaulted her from 19th to fourth on the money list. She also set an LPGA record for single-season earnings by a rookie with $1,633,586.

David Leadbetter, her coach of 11⁄2 years, called Granada throughout the week to offer advice. Usually, Granada sees him on the road only if Michelle Wie is in the field. The exception is the

Ginn Open near Orlando, played down the road from Leadbetter’s ChampionsGate Academy and the Granada family condo.

Earlier this season at the Ginn, Leadbetter followed Granada for nine holes and raved about her consistent, tidy game.

“She’s at a stage in the LPGA life where there’s a lot of exciting young players, and she’s not really spoken about in the same breath at all,” Leadbetter said last April. “Everyone is talking about Michelle, Paula, Natalie and Morgan. . . . There’s not much room for the young player from Paraguay. She’ll have to let the clubs do the talking.”

Or simply wave that million-dollar check.

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