By Beth Ann Baldry
Fort Worth, Texas
What do you get when you add 30 yards to one of the most consistent games in junior golf? A scoring machine.
Julieta Granada, previously known for her steady play and remarkable short game, can now add “explosive” to that description after defeating Jane Park in 20 holes July 24 to win the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.
“I proved to myself I’m good enough to play out there and I can go any day, any time, against the best players in the world,” said Granada.
Fifteen months ago, the petite Paraguayan eked her drives an average of 210 yards, relying on her wedges to keep it around par. She gained 20 yards in time for last year’s Girls’ Junior and advanced to the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
Still, she knew she could do better.
In February, Granada enlisted the expertise of Pat Etcheverry, a physical trainer who keeps tennis pro Justine Henin-Hardenne in top condition. Etcheverry’s strength training program began showing immediate results.
By April, Granada shot 66 in a team event. By June she’d scorched the AJGA Rolex Girls Junior field with a closing 64 to win by nine strokes. And July 19, she began her championship run with an 4-under 67 at Mira Vista Golf Club.
“Hitting it farther, the courses seem so easy,” Granada said. “It’s just such a big advantage when you can get it out there somehow.”
Following a shaky practice round on Sunday, Granada benefited from a surprise run-in with Magnus Karlsson, an instructor at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. Although Jonathan Yarwood is Granada’s primary teacher, Granada was grateful to have Karlsson on the practice range for a last-minute tuneup.
Granada, ranked No. 3 in the Golfweek/Titleist Performance Index, was seeded No. 1 despite finishing stroke-play qualifying tied at 4 under with In-Bee Park and Mari Chun.
Granada rolled into the semifinals to set up at a match against top-ranked Paula Creamer. The pair of Pendleton School classmates arrived at the David Leadbetter Academy as eighth-graders almost four years ago and have been ranked in the top 5 the last three seasons.
Granada, poised to avenge a quarterfinal loss to Creamer at last year’s Girls’ Junior, entered the 17th hole with a 1-up advantage. Both players drove the ball into the rough on the 493-yard par-5. Granada, who laid up, hit her approach to 20 feet, while Creamer, just shy of the green in two, chipped to 2 feet.
“I wasn’t looking at it but I was pretty sure she would make the putt,” Granada said. “I was
actually going to give it to her but I thought let’s just make her practice a little bit.”
Creamer’s birdie attempt turned sharply around the left edge, however, leaving the hole halved with pars. On the 18th Creamer’s slick birdie putt slid 10 feet past the cup, giving Granada a spot in the championship match.
“It was so intense,” said Granada who hit 17 of 18 greens in the match and notched six birdies. “Every shot counted, every putt counted. There was no breathing.”
Park, meanwhile, was making her way through the championship’s lower bracket.
A member of the victorious U.S. Curtis Cup team and ’03 U.S. Women’s Amateur finalist, Park is no stranger to pressure. In fact, the laid-back Californian referred to last week’s event as a “warm-up” for next month’s Women’s Amateur.
After both players got off to a wobbly start with opening bogeys in the championship match, the score jockeyed between 1 up and all square through 16 holes, although Park never held the lead.
Heading into the pivotal par-5 17th all square, Park appeared to have the upper hand after Granada’s drive missed the fairway. With her feet in the bunker and her ball resting just outside on a sidehill, uphill lie Granada poked an 8-iron down the fairway, a shot she later referred to as “the best shot of the week.”
Minutes later Park struck a 4-iron from 200 yards to 25 feet. Granada responded with a wedge from 102 yards to 12 feet. After Park’s eagle putt slid by, Granada confidently stroked in a birdie to keep the match all square.
A pair of two-putt pars from each player on the first two playoff holes brought Granada back to No. 2, a 401-yard par-4 she’d won four times in previous matches. After Park found the rough off the tee and pushed her approach right of the green, Granada coolly hit her second shot to 12 feet.
Park’s flop shot scooted 15 feet by the cup and she failed to convert her par putt.
“Golf only has one winner and second place doesn’t really do it for anyone,” said a disappointed Park.
Granada couldn’t wait to speak with her father, Alejandro, who stayed in Paraguay to run the
family’s restaurant. Rosa Granada, Julieta’s mother and best friend, was in Texas blowing kisses and shouting words of encouragement every step of the way.
It turned out to be a big weekend for Paraguay as Carlos Franco won the PGA Tour’s U.S. Bank Championship Sunday. Franco, a close family friend, often caddied for Rosa Granada in Paraguay before turning professional.
“It’s going to inspire a lot of kids to work hard for their dreams because there’s no opportunities over there,” Granada said. “You have to do something really special to come here and win a couple of tournaments and get in with the best players in the world.”