Or maybe it was the steely nerves and gentle demeanor that enabled smooth-swinging rookie Sarah-Jane Kenyon of Queensland, Australia to secure her first professional victory at the $65,000 Tampa Bay Futures Golf Classic. Kenyon held a two-shot lead coming into the final hole and added a birdie from 10 feet as if to put a stamp on the start of her pro career at East Lake Woodlands Golf & Country Club.
Her final-round score of 69 on the South Course and 6-under-par total of 210 gave her a three-stroke cushion over runners-up Lori Atsedes (2-under 70) of Ithaca, N.Y., and Becky Iverson (even-par 72) of Gladstone, Mich., who tied at 213 (-3) in the 54-hole event.
'I've been hitting it well for a long time, but I made heaps of putts that were ridiculous this week,' said Kenyon, 20, still too young to rent a car. With her victory, she became the second Tour rookie to win in as many weeks.
Kenyon appeared calm after the victory, almost as if winning was something she expected to do and to do this early in her pro career. But it was the oversize replica champion's check that seemed to capture her imagination the most.
'I've always wanted that big check,' admitted Kenyon, who was more interested in the replica than her actual winner's paycheck for $9,100. Riding in a small car back to Orlando with fellow Australian Tamara Johns, one can imagine how Kenyon's giant check must have figured into every conversation along the congested Interstate-4 corridor.
But the young player already has become pretty savvy about navigating her way around obstacles. She held off her nerves in the Lakeland season opener to finish tied for 18th. And at this week's event, in spite of limited practice time on a golf course that received five inches of rain in three days, she posted rounds of 73-68-69 to make the veterans take note.
'She hit the ball fantastic and was down the middle every time,' said Iverson, a veteran LPGA Tour player and LPGA winner. 'She's a very good young player and she made a ton of putts today.'
'Kids don't know what fear is,' added Atsedes, who also has played on the LPGA Tour and has won five Futures Tour titles. 'They have no reason to doubt and no reason to fear anything out there.'
It was, in fact, the veteran players who doubted themselves on Sunday. Iverson hit 15 greens, but carded 33 putts in today's final round, which she entered tied for the lead with Kenyon.
'I hit the ball well enough to win, but you can't win a tournament with 33 putts,' said Iverson, adding that she had seven putts within 12 feet that she missed for birdie. For the day, she posted one birdie and one bogey.
Normally a solid ball striker, Atsedes second-guessed herself all day with her full swing and recorded 26 putts for the second consecutive day.
'I'm not at all pleased with my long game,' said Atsedes, who recorded four birdies and two bogeys, with birdies on two of her last three holes. 'I've only had two rounds in my entire career where I had 26 putts, and they both came this week. It's just strange.'
Seon-Hwa Lee of Chonan, Korea, who finished as runner-up at this tournament in 2004, made a late charge, firing a 3-under-par 69 to finish solo fourth at 214 (-2).
Rookie pro Mollie Fankhauser of Columbus, Ohio, also carded a 69 in today's final round for a share of fifth place with Kyeong Bae of Seoul, Korea, Hye Jung Choi of Seoul, Naree Song of Seoul, Dana Lacey of North Beach, W. Australia, Cristina Baena of Pereira, Colombia and Kristy McPherson of Conway, S.C. That pack of players tied at 1-under-par 215.
But Kenyon, an only child and daughter of a golf course greenskeeper, bested the field of 144 players this week. With a list of Australian amateur accolades, she came to America this year with the goal of making every tournament cut and finishing among the Tour's top five money winners by season's end to earn her exempt LPGA Tour status for 2006. Three years ago, when she sustained a badly broken left hand in a car crash, the talented Aussie wondered if any of her golf dreams would come true.
Today, one of them did. Still with three metal screws securing the bones in her left hand, Kenyon played fearless, youthful golf with a calm sense of belonging. Her only regret was that her parents could not be in Florida to see her win.
'It's Monday morning at home,' she said. 'They probably know by now.'
Kenyon showed her first sign of queasiness as she sat in a golf cart talking to media following her win. She held on to her giant check with one hand and patted her face with the other.
'I feel crook -- you know, sick,' she said, accepting a bottle of water. 'I don't know what's wrong with me.'
To be sure, this time, it wasn't the Aussie burger.