SOMERS POINT, N.J. -- To the approval of the playing partners she had just defeated and almost everyone else on the grounds of the Greater Bay Resort & Country Club, Shelley Hamlin won the ShopRite LPGA Classic yesterday in record style.
Hamlin rolled birdie putts in on the 15th and 17th holes to grab a two-shot victory over three players, her second win in the nearly two years since she had breast cancer diagnosed and underwent a modified radical mastectomy.
After Hamlin hustled to her ball and tapped in the final stroke of her 1-under-par 70 to complete her wire-to-wire win, the gallery applause swelled. Extended warm hugs were exchanged with fellow players Beth Daniel and Amy Benz and their caddies. This 8-year-old event rarely has had a more popular champion.
"She's always been an asset to the tour," Daniel said of Hamlin, "but through her struggles with cancer, all women and people can look up to her. To go through what Shelley went through and then come back and win two golf tournaments, it's incredible."
Hamlin, 44, finished with a record 9-under-par score of 204, breaking the mark of 206 set by Juli Inkster and Daniel in 1988. The third win of her 22-year LPGA career was worth $67,500, boosting her over the $100,000 mark for the second time.
"There were an awful lot of shouts in my direction, and that was awfully nice," Hamlin said. "Maybe they could tell I needed some extra help."
Hamlin's remark captures her self-deprecating nature. She is like that off the course, especially when people want to describe her as "inspirational." She gently shrugs off such comments.
"I think a better description would be determined and stubborn," she said. "I think I came back to golf because I was too stubborn to let something that I love get away from me."
Daniel and Benz saw Hamlin's on-course determination first-hand and couldn't apply enough pressure to rattle her. Daniel shot a 69 and Benz closed with a 68 to join Judy Dickinson, who had a 67, in a three-way tie for second at 206.
K? Danielle Ammaccapane, who was tied for the lead on the back
nine before Hamlin sped away, shot her third straight 69 for 207, tying her with Martha Faulconer, who carded a 68.
In her long career, Hamlin had never led going into a final round. She started yesterday with a three-stroke lead, and while she didn't make any big mistakes early, the rest of the field began to creep up.
Brandie Burton got to within two after her five-birdie front side. Benz birdied three of the first five holes to draw within one. Ammaccapane had three birdies in a five-hole span.
"I checked the board," Hamlin said. "It didn't make me happy, but that was all I could do."
Hamlin birdied the par-5 eighth and bogeyed the par-4 10th to stay one up. But on the par-3 14th, she hit her tee shot into a bunker, blasted out and missed a 6-foot par putt, dropping her into a tie at 7-under with Ammaccapane, playing in the group ahead of Hamlin.
"The competition was playing so well and I was just going along, going along," Hamlin said. "Maybe I was wimping out on this, but I said to myself, 'After all you've been through with cancer, this is not that tough.' "
Hamlin grabbed the lead back with a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-4 15th. Then at the par-4 17th, Hamlin hit a 6-iron to within 15 feet and sank that, giving her a two-shot cushion.