Sixth-year LPGA Tour member Julieta Granada knows a thing or two about patience. After all, it has been five years since the prodigy from Paraguay won the LPGA’s biggest payday as a rookie.
Now 25, Granada burst onto the LPGA Tour in 2006 to post seven top-10 finishes in her rookie season, including a win at the former season-ending ADT Championship. That event awarded a $1 million prize to the tournament winner.
The player from Asuncion, Paraguay returned to the LPGA in 2007 and recorded three top 10s, with two runner-up finishes and a tie for 10th at the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open.
But those early splashes of brilliance were followed by some tough times on the LPGA Tour. In the last six seasons, Granada has recorded a total of only 12 top-10 finishes to 55 missed cuts. By 2008, the eternally youthful South American began to struggle in a way that made many wonder what was causing such an early and visible slump.
“I don’t know if I would call it a slump,” she said. “I would say I was confused -- confused about a lot of things. I won really early. I don’t want to say I wasn’t ready for it, because I won and I obviously was ready, but all the other things around it, I just wasn’t ready for.”
But Granada’s fast ascent as a rising LPGA star was completely expected by most. After all, the product of the IMG Leadbetter Golf Academy had won the 2004 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, was the 2004 AJGA Player of the Year, and won the 2005 South Atlantic Ladies Amateur (Sally) Championship.
She qualified for membership on the LPGA Futures Tour based on her amateur ranking and arrived at the 2005 Bank of Ann Arbor Futures Golf Classic in Michigan to compete. Granada opted to turn professional that week and finished second in her pro debut.
Playing in nine Futures Tour tournaments that summer, she posted four top-10 events, including one more runner-up finish, before winning the Tour’s final tournament at the YWCA Futures Classic in York, Pa.
Granada finished seventh on the Futures Tour’s 2005 season money list, but that was before the top-10 places were awarded LPGA membership. She went on to earn 2006 LPGA status at the qualifying tournament with a tie for sixth.
By all accounts, the affable player was ready to go. She had already made history as the first Paraguayan-born player to win an LPGA tournament, and she also set an LPGA record at that time for the most money earned by a rookie at more than $1.6 million. [Jiyai Shin broke that single-season record for rookie earnings in 2009, with earnings of more than $1.8 million.]
The solid golf and sense of fun continued the next year for Granada and her caddie/mom, Rosa, but then suddenly, everything took a wrong turn.
“You want to win, you want to win fast, and you want to win again,” said Granada. “And you want to win every week, but the patience level kind of drops a little bit.”
Granada began searching to bring back the magic of her rookie-year LPGA start, but it was almost as if she were trying too hard. From a span of 2008 through 2010, she didn’t crack the top 10. In 2008, she missed 13 cuts in 25 events, while in both 2009 and 2010, she missed 10 cuts. The player knew she had to shake up something.
So last August, after missing nine straight tournament cuts, Granada made up her mind to take action. She refocused. She changed coaches. She began thinking about how to prepare for the 2011 season.
“I wasn’t going to quit and I wasn’t ready to give up,” she said. “I was just going to keep working hard and improve my game. I had to do something to gain a little more confidence in my ball-striking.”
Granada was still a work in progress when the 2011 season started. She missed her first two cuts, but by the third tournament this year – the Kraft Nabisco Championship – she charged into a tie for seventh. She missed another cut, but then tied for ninth at the Sybase Match Play Championship.
Finally, she was starting to see progress. And while she battled for more consistency throughout the year, Granada made her last four cuts and qualified for the elite-field CME Group Titleholders in November. It was a small victory for a larger goal.
“The good thing is, I know what I need to do in my swing and my putting is improving, slowly, but surely,” she said. “Now, I have a better idea of what I need to work on.”
Granada was pleased with her renovated golf swing this season and said her improved stroke helped eliminate “stress on the golf course.” She wasn’t as pleased, however, with her putting, allowing that when the putts weren’t dropping, her performance “was a little up and down.”
The South American plans to spend the winter off-season fine tuning her game and chasing consistency. And she plans to hit the gym and be ready to go when the 2012 season begins.
“I have to admit, this year was a lot of fun because things have started going in the right direction,” she said. “It’s moving forward and I definitely think I have more wins in me.
“I just have to have patience, keep working hard, and see golf as fun,” added Granada. “If I remind myself that it’s a game and to enjoy it, I think I’ll see everything finally come together.”
Topics: Granada, Julieta