And if any player tamed the wind, it was big-hitting Smriti Mehra of Calcutta, India ' a veteran professional and non-exempt LPGA Tour member who produced three rounds in the 60s for a tournament record 12-under-par finish of 204 at the Willowbend Golf Club. Mehra rattled in rounds of 69-66-69 and birdied the 287-yard 18th hole all three days ' successfully driving the par-4 green in two of the three rounds.
But Sunday, Mehra held back for the only time all week and safely smacked a 1-iron from the 18th-hole tee to within 80 yards of the flagstick. A wedge approach and a three-foot birdie putt later, Mehra was the new champion.
'If I had known I had a two-shot lead at that point, I would have gone for it,' said Mehra, who was talked into being conservative on the last tee by her husband/caddie Christopher Guffin. 'Chris said, You dont have to have it, so I laid up.'
But there was nothing else passive about her round. Mehra knew she was in for a challenge when Marie-Josee Rouleau of St. Lambert, Quebec, completed her second round with a 3-under 69 to draw within two shots of the clubhouse leader going into the final round. The Canadian got off to a quick start with a 25-foot birdie putt on the first hole to draw within one stroke, then knotted the score on the second hole with a gutsy chip-in from the back of the green.
'I pushed her right off the bat,' said Rouleau, who played 34 holes today. 'I knew I had to be aggressive because shes a good player and shes going to shoot a 68 or 69.'
Rouleau actually took the lead on the fourth hole when Mehra bogeyed, but the eight-year veteran came storming back with a birdie on the fifth, an eagle-3 on the par-5 sixth and another birdie on the eighth hole. By the time Mehra made the nine-hole turn, she held a five-shot lead.
Around the same time, Jimin Kang of Seoul, Korea, began making her move with birdies on the ninth, 10th and 12th holes. Like Rouleau, she played 34 holes Sunday and was feeling the weight of two days of stop-start play with four-hour storm delays, multiple suspensions and mornings that began long before daylight and ended into the night. The weather took its toll on the 144-player field, leaving most tired, aching and sleep-deprived.
'When I saw the scoreboard at No. 15, I said, Oh wow, time to wake up,' said Kang, who promptly carded an eagle-3 on the par-5 16th that moved her into sole possession of second place. The Korean crushed her drive on the 550-yard hole and used a 5-wood to reach the 210-yard flagstick, draining a 20-footer for eagle. Kang, who won the tours last event in Tampa three weeks ago, blistered the 6,405-yard, par-72 course with a final-round 66 on the most perfect day of the week for a 9-under finish of 207.
As Kang charged ahead, Rouleau battled her own roller coaster round with a birdie on hole No. 14 and a double bogey on the 15th, courtesy of a nasty bunker lie. Mehra had her own problems with an uncharacteristic double bogey at 14. By her own admission, she was worrying about not being able to finish the round because of darkness and leaked her drive into a fairway bunker. The ball plugged, Mehra went bunker to bunker and suddenly, a three-shot swing threatened to send in those scary Oz monkeys to steal her sparkling day.
'I wasnt really worried about anybody and I think I was in control most of the time,' said Mehra, whose only other Futures Tour win came in 1996 in Vermont. 'I told myself not to doubt myself. I stuck to my game plan. I committed and stayed committed.'
And as Mehra stood on that last tee box staring at the small green tucked behind a looming water hazard at the end of a seemingly endless week of rain, wind, mud and far too many Krispy Kreme doughnuts during storm delays, she knew just where she was going and how she was going to get there. The Kansas sun was setting and Mehras short birdie putt on 18 rang home.
It was one win on the way to regaining her full LPGA Tour card.
And everybody in Kansas knows, theres no place like home.