Back on her game, Granada feels like a million bucks

Julieta Granada during final round golf action from the CME Group Titleholders.

Julieta Granada during final round golf action from the CME Group Titleholders.

I remember when Julieta Granada won a million dollars in one day. She pulled up to the hotel at Reunion Resort a few months later in a plush Range Rover, her tiny dog Bimba set to go for a spin.

I remember the year previous when Granada won the 2005 South Atlantic Amateur in nasty, rainy conditions at Oceanside Country Club, just off of Granada Blvd. All signs – literally – pointed to her that week.

I remember when she took down the biggest names in junior golf during a steamy week in Fort Worth, Texas, with her mother Rosa yelling “Super! Super!” in that thick Paraguayan accent. Granada beat Paula Creamer and Jane Park en route to the 2004 U.S. Girls’ Junior title, a feat that helped persuade her to skip Arizona and turn pro the next summer.

The road wasn’t easy. Granada, 25, took her first lesson from someone in the David Leadbetter camp at age 8. She moved from Paraguay to Bradenton, Fla., with her mother at 14 to attend the Leadbetter Academy, leaving her father home to look after the family restaurant. They used a bike to get around town that first year and rented a car when they went to tournaments.

“I don’t care how big is the sacrifice,” Rosa once said. “If you do it with energy and with love, who cares?”

When Granada won the million-dollar prize at the ADT Championship in her rookie year – staring down Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb in the process – her world changed. She finished fourth on the season money list, and found a newfound security in her bloated bank account.

The money, however, didn’t solve everything.

“It was maybe a little too much comfort for me,” Granada said. “I always played hungry, and with that million in the bank I wasn’t hungry anymore. I couldn’t ask for a better first win, but at the same time. . . . Everything comes with pluses and minuses.”

Two years after her victory, Granada dropped to 102nd on the money list. Then 110th in 2009. She started playing in Europe to beef up her schedule. The problem was obvious: In 2008, she ranked 144th on tour in greens hit. In 2009, she ranked 123rd. By September 2010, Granada was done.

After what seemed like a lifetime of Leadbetter learning (either from the man himself or his proteges), Granada decided it was time for a change. She booked a two-hour lesson with Sean Foley and left a new woman. Foley gave her 10 drills to do the remainder of the season.

She flew to Arkansas the next week and shot 75-66-72. It marked her first cut on the LPGA since May and the first time she had broken 70 all year.

It has been a steady progression ever since, culminating in a tie for second at the ISPS Handa Australian Open to start 2012, her seventh season on tour. She’s back in contention.

“I knew what was going on,” Granada said. “I was hitting it way better, more greens … not making enough putts.”

After Granada took an unusual amount of time off this offseason to go skiing for the first time in Steamboat Springs (apparently she’s a natural), she spent time working on her putter alignment.

“It’s pretty basic stuff,” she said, “but it’s funny how you get away from it.”

The one constant in Granada’s game: Mom. Rosa Granada was an architect in her previous life. Now she’s the only mother on tour who loops full-time for her daughter. It has been this way since the beginning, and despite the large staff bag (which Granada said is emptied of non-essentials before she tees off), she hasn’t had back issues. Granada never blamed the bad golf on her caddie.

“If you look at any tour pro, they have a couple bad rounds or a year they play bad and they say it’s the caddie,” Granada said. “Honestly, it’s never the caddie.

“It doesn’t matter who is on the bag if I’m hitting four greens a round.”

Rosa Granada helps with attitude, swing adjustments and companionship on the road. They are the best of friends and a source of smiles on the LPGA. And, yes, Rosa gets paid like a regular caddie.

At 5 feet 2 inches, Granada knows she’ll never be a power player like Yani Tseng or Suzann Pettersen. She has gotten longer in recent months, but she’s not chasing the yards. As she points out, one can still make birdie with a 6-iron.

Like many players on the LPGA, Granada quite literally grew up on the LPGA. And she had to do it quickly.

“It’s a blessing to be out on tour and have all the opportunities,” she said. “Don’t want to take it too seriously.”

As Rosa would say, that’s just super.

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