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Year gives Hamlin course in perspective


Shelley Hamlin posted consecutive rounds of 1-over-par 72 to make the cut, then charged through with a 1-under-par 70 yesterday for a three-round total of 1-over-par 214 in the Mazda LPGA Championship at Bethesda Country Club.

"I'm not real thrilled with it. I'd call it plodding along," she said after completing her second round in the rain and narrowly beating the suspension of play Friday. A better putting round led to her sub-par effort yesterday.

No golf course experiences now, however, can compare with what Hamlin has been through within the past year.

In her usual optimistic fashion, however, Hamlin says, "I'm one of those people who believes things always work out the way they're supposed to."

A 20-year professional career that had produced lots of enthusiasm and confidence, but only one tour victory (1978) by last summer, was overshadowed by winning the two biggest battles of her life, followed by a most rewarding victory.

Hamlin, 42, was found to have breast cancer last July and underwent a modified radical mastectomy later that month. Two weeks later, she was back hitting balls, and on Labor Day weekend, at the Rail Classic, she shot 79-69 and missed the cut by two shots.

At the end of the season, though, she had earned $16,170, not enough to keep her player's card.

"Terrifying," she calls the experience of the 72-hole qualifying school in Daytona Beach, Fla., last October. "I was at the point in my career where I had to bite the bullet. I just made the decision to go through with it. I wanted it too much not to try."

A third-round 69 followed 74-77 and brightened her spirits. The last day, she birdied the 17th hole and got up and down at the 18th for 75--295, one shot in front of 11 players who had to play off for two available spots.

Said Hamlin: "Right then, I took a deep breath and said to myself, 'OK, you got the cancer under control. You got the qualifying school out of the way. Now focus on golf.' "

Hamlin had been working with Jan Ferraris, a former LPGA player who's now a teaching pro in Phoenix, Ariz., for several years, and then they stepped up their efforts.

Hamlin tied for seventh in the opening tournament of 1992 (she had had only one better finish in the previous nine years), and a week later, she fought off the charge of Hall of Famer JoAnne Carner and two members of the talented new breed of players, Brandie Burton and Dana Lofland, to win the Phar-Mor at Inverray by a stroke.

"This victory is for those women who have been through what I have been through, to let them know they can still do whatever they want to do," Hamlin said at the time.

She shot a closing-round 66, and will not soon forget the scene walking up the 18th fairway. Pat Bradley, in the hunt for most of the round, was walking ahead when the crowd started to applaud. Bradley looked back and began clapping, too.

"And she was clapping . . . for me. That really touched me, that she thought enough to do that," Hamlin said.

Afterward, Bradley would say, "I said a prayer going down the 17th fairway. I asked, 'Dear God, please give Shelley the strength to pull this thing off.' "

Reminded of this at Bethesda, Bradley confirmed her feelings. "I was extremely proud of her strength and courage. She had had the battles with cancer and the qualifying school, and then to win. I was thrilled. It was an incredible moment in sports. I would like to have won, but I was pulling for her."

Hamlin's outlook on golf has changed. "I know my attitude toward the game is a lot lighter now," she said. "That's something all professionals have to watch out for. We have a tendency to look at golf for more than what it is. It's a delightful game."


This week's schedule: Today--Mazda LPGA Championship, Bethesda CC, 8:30 a.m. Tomorrow--U.S. Open local qualifying, Chartwell CC, 7:15 a.m. Tuesday--Women's Golf Association, Eagle's Nest and Rolling Road GC, 9 a.m. Wednesday--Kemper Open (Middle Atlantic PGA members) qualifying, Indian Spring CC, 8 a.m. Thursday --Kemper Open (open) qualifying, Indian Spring CC, 8 a.m. Saturday--Elkridge-Green Spring member-guest, at Elkridge Club, 7 a.m.

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