Julieta Granada's introduction in 2001 to life at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy made her yearn for a one-way, return ticket to Paraguay. "The first few weeks were absolutely awful. I was crying every day coming home from school," said the 17-year-old Granada, who defeated Curtis Cup player Jane Park over 20 holes Saturday to win the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship in Fort Worth, Texas.
Granada and her parents, Alejandro and Rosa, believed the academy offered the best chance to maximize her potential -- if she could conquer her fear and loneliness. The family decided Rosa would live in a Bradenton apartment with Julieta while Alejandro remained in Asuncion, Paraguay, to run his restaurant.
"We left the whole family behind," Granada recalled. "My grandmother, granddad, aunt, uncles. All my friends."
Chasing dreams only a handful of IMG Academy students realize.
"People don't understand what sacrifices many of our students make," said Jonathan Yarwood, Granada's coach at the DLGA.
"Ask yourself: Would you spend the formative years of your child's life away from your spouse? (Julieta and Rosa) live on a shoestring and drive around in a beat-up old car. Her parents dedicate their life to Julieta's success."
The Granadas' investment has been returned tenfold this summer.
In June in Daytona Beach, Granada fired a final-round, 8-under par 64 to establish 18 and 54-hole scoring records at the American Junior Golf Association's Rolex Girls Junior Championships (her 201 total shattered Aree Song's tournament mark by five strokes).
Two weeks later, Granada shot 5-under 208 to capture the AJGA Randall Parker Shootout at Fieldstone (Del.) Golf Club by four shots.
Granada earned another big title in April in her homeland, winning the South American Girls' Championship by 17 strokes. She received the trophy from good friend and PGA Tour player Carlos Franco of Paraguay (who won last week's U.S. Bank Championship).
Granada's red-hot ballstriking continued in the Girls' Junior at Mira Vista in Fort Worth, where she tied for medalist honors before winning six consecutive matches. A major obstacle arose in the semifinals -- a showdown against fellow DLGA student Paula Creamer, the country's No. 1-ranked junior, Curtis Cup player and U.S. Open 13th-place finisher.
Down the stretch of a taut match, the upstart proved Creamer's equal, missing only two fairways and one green. Granada birdied the 16th hole to take the lead before closing out a 1-up victory, avenging a 1-up defeat against Creamer in the quarterfinals of the 2003 U.S. Girls' Junior.
"I know Paula Creamer is a great player, but you still have to go out and play golf," Granada said. "It doesn't matter what someone's record or stroke average is. It's still a different day and you have to go play."
For Granada, the following day's triumph against Park confirmed those first few weeks of misery three years ago in Bradenton were worth it.
"It proves my hard work is paying off and that I'm as good as anyone out there," said Granada, who spoke to her father by telephone on her way to the airport for this week's McDonald's Betsy Rawls Golf Championship in Malvern, Penn. "I think my game pretty much has always been consistent. Now, it's a matter of getting a little more confidence in myself. I've played a lot of tournaments this summer, which has really helped step my game up to the next level."
Rosa Granada says she would have accepted any result in Fort Worth as long as she knew her daughter -- a senior-to-be at The IMG Academy School -- was doing her best.
"We are so proud of her, with the title or without the title," Rosa said. "I never worry about the result. I just worry about the effort.
"She has a natural balance. She likes movies, she loves to laugh. She can work harder, but she puts limits on. Sometimes I push her to practice harder, and she gets a little mad."
The 5-foot-2 Granada, who has the AJGA Canon Cup matches and the U.S. Women's Amateur upcoming, has been known for her accuracy since coming to Bradenton.
"She hits more fairways and more greens, week in and week out, than anyone I've ever seen," Yarwood said.
Through regular conditioning sessions at the International Performance Institute on the campus of IMG Academy, Granada has added about 30 yards to her tee shots, consistently driving the ball in the 250-yard range. "It's a combination of growing a little and working out," she said.
At one of her very favorite places -- the DLGA in Bradenton.
"I love it now," she said. "It's an awesome place to be if you want to be the best player you can."