And then it happened. Candy Hannemann tapped in her putt for par on the last hole to win her first professional tournament at the $65,000 Hunters Oak Futures Golf Classic presented by Toyota.
The native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil stayed ahead of both the impending summer storm rolling in from the distance and the final-round charge made by Soo Young Moon of Keumsan, Korea. With rounds of 65-66 under her belt and a three-shot cushion heading into Sundays final round, Hannemann held together her nerves, steadied her putter and added an even-par 72 for a 13-under finish of 203. Moon finished second at 10-under 206.
'Ive had so many chances to win this year but there have been times when I thought I was never going to do it,' said Hannemann, of her first win in 12 Futures tournaments this season. 'But one of the things I learned a few months ago is its never over until the last putt drops on the 18th hole. This time, I was prepared for anything.'
Prepared even for Moons now-expected Sunday chase for the trophy. The Korean, who won the previous weeks tournament, carded a final-round 68 and maintained a constant presence on the 6,306-yard, links-style course. Moon closed the gap between herself and Hannemann to one stroke several times on the final day until a bogey on the 15th hole finally derailed her attempt for a third season win. Moons bogey gave the Brazilian a two-shot cushion. But Hannemann, playing with Moon and Stacy Prammanasudh of Enid, Okla., knew what she had to do to walk away with her first pro title.
When Hannemann bogeyed the 10th, Moon was right there one shot back, waiting for the leader to lose her grip. Then, Hannemann was forced to save par from 10 feet on the 11th hole.
'That was a huge save because Soo Young was one shot behind me at that point,' said Hannemann, 23, who won the individual 2001 NCAA Division I Womens Golf Championship and was on Dukes NCAA National Championship teams in 1999 and 2002. 'I knew Soo Young was there. And I knew I had to make that putt.'
Hannemann not only saved par, but rolled in a 20-foot birdie on the 12th, saved par from five feet on the 14th, then pulled a miracle out of her hat on the 17th when she topped a 3-wood off the tee and was forced to navigate her 9-wood 231 yards to the green. Her approach landed within 16 feet of the hole. With the confidence of a veteran, Hannemann drained the putt for birdie to take a three-shot lead to the 18th tee.
'I think that 17th hole just summed it all up,' said Chuasiriporn, Hannemanns former Duke teammate who, in 1998, nearly became the second amateur in the history of womens golf to win the U.S. Womens Open. 'Candy has a lot of guts and she hung in there. Ive had a lump in my throat all day.'
Chuasirporn, who was a senior at Duke when Hannemann was a freshman, wasnt the only person trying to swallow easily in the final round. Prammanasudh, who started the day three shots behind the Brazilian, bogeyed three holes and birdied two holes on the front nine. Then Prammanasudh bogeyed two of her last five holes to post a final-round score of 2-over-par 74. She never got anything going and finished third at 208 (-7).
Once Prammanasudh began to struggle, it was a two-player race between Hannemann and Moon. And even though the Brazilian found herself battling a cut shot with her driver, caddie Chris McCalmont encouraged her to play with what she had that day and not fight the fade.
'I told her its not how she plays; its just getting the job done,' said McCalmont, who has worked the last four tournaments on Hannemanns bag. 'She controlled her game today even though she was pretty nervous.'
Hannemann had her best chance to win in early May at the Isleta Casino & Resort Futures Golf Classic, but she was beaten in a playoff by Catherine Cartwright and finished second. With seven top-10 finishes this season, she has maintained a presence as a chaser and, at times, an underachiever for a player of her talent.
'She always had talent, like a little prodigy, and Ive followed her career ever since she was 10 years old,' said Bemvenuti of Porto Alegre, Brazil, a nine-year member of the LPGA Tour who finished tied for 13th at 216 in the Hunters Oak Futures Golf Classic. 'Good players are always anxious to win when they first come out on Tour but they have to learn a little bit. This is a breakthrough for her and the last drop of confidence she needs to know shes among the top 50-80 players in the world right now.'
'I bet its such a relief to her because shes so passionate about what she does and shes worked hard on her game,' added Chuasiriporn. 'I think this is a turning point. I kind of feel like I watched Candy graduate with honors today.'
Honors, indeed for a champion, at last.