Mussani Holds On To Win Tour's Major Championship

June 19, 2006

Decatur, Ill. - A different woman cradled a crystal trophy today than the one who thought about calling it quits in professional golf a few years ago.

After all, doctors had reminded her that extreme heat, fatigue, stress and constant travel were all contributing factors to flare-ups for Lupus, the incurable autoimmune disease that sometimes makes her life miserable. Lupus has caused Canadian Salimah Mussani to pass out on golf courses in the summer heat and to withdraw from tournaments. It has given her skin rashes and made her hands swell with inflammation. It has made her feel tired and achy. And it has made a 26-year-old woman slowly ease out of bed each morning as if she were 50 years older.

But today, Mussani was able to raise the trophy as the winner of the $100,000 Michelob ULTRA Duramed FUTURES Players Championship. For once, she had beaten the odds, beaten the heat, outlasted the competition, and made herself untouchable for the better portion of four rounds in the Duramed FUTURES Tour's only major championship. After 72 holes and who-knows-how-much agony, Mussani mustered a five-under-par final round performance of 67 to win this 22nd annual tournament by five strokes at 272 (-16) at Hickory Point Golf Course.

'I almost can't believe it,' said Mussani, a fourth-year pro whose best finish prior to this week was a tie for 14th at the Tour's April tournament in McAllen, Texas. 'When you're tapping in for par, a lot of stress is removed from the game.'

With scores of 67-70-68-67, Mussani nearly made the Tour's only 72-hole event in the regular season look like a pleasurable stroll under her sun-reflective umbrella, used to keep her cool during the week's 90-degree temperatures. After the first round, she was tied for second, one shot off the lead. After 36 holes, she led by two shots. After three rounds, she led by four strokes and for most of today's final round, she was a minimum of two shots ahead of her closest chaser.

'She played well all week and made a lot of birdies,' said Charlotte Mayorkas of Las Vegas, who fired a final-round 67 (-5) and finished second at 277 (-11). 'I knew she was going to keep making birdies. I went out there and had nothing to lose and I did the best I could to catch her.'

'If I'd made some putts in the first and second rounds, maybe I would have had a better chance,' said In-Bee Park, 17, of Las Vegas, who carded a 68 (-4) in the final round and finished third at 279 (-9). 'I started out the tournament tied for 48th and moved up, so I'm very happy. It feels like I'm getting used to this stuff.'

Mussani was bogey-free on the weekend and hit 14 greens, 12 fairways and rolled in 27 putts in today's final round. While she was out-driven off the tee all day by good friend and pairings partner Lisa Fernandes of Jacksonville, Fla., her irons were precise and her left-handed putting was smooth and on line all day. One would never suspect that she lost her breakfast on the practice range prior to teeing off or that she felt queasy for most of the front nine.

'I was feeling a little weak, but I kept eating crackers because I knew I had to go out and play well,' said Mussani, a member of the 2000 NCAA Women's Golf Championship runner-up team while at Stanford University.

Mussani was on cruise control and held the lead throughout Saturday and Sunday's rounds. When she walked up the 10th fairway today past the leaderboard and saw that Mayorkas was making a run at her lead, Fernandes told her pal, 'Just take care of business.' And that's exactly what Mussani did.

'Sal really put the hammer down,' said Fernandes, who held a share of second place during the second and third rounds and finished tied for 14th at 286 (-2) after a final-round 77 and a day of golf swing snafus. 'She's on top of her game right now.'

Even more importantly, Mussani is on top of her health, which has been the toughest aspect of getting the most out of her game. Two years ago at the Tour's tournament in York, Pa., Mussani fell victim to the extreme heat and humidity of summer and was taken off the golf course and iced down in the locker room while Tour staff called her parents. Countless times, she has been forced to withdraw from events when fatigue made it difficult to lift her feet just to walk. A recurring skin rash sometimes has her brown skin smeared in white ointment.

And at the Tour's annual qualifying tournament last November, Mussani spent the entire night before the final round in the emergency room of a hospital in Lakeland, Fla. Doctors originally thought she was having an appendicitis, but traces of e-coli bacteria later were discovered in her system. Still in pain, the Canadian carded a two-under-par final round score of 70 and finished fourth in the tournament.

'This girl does not quit,' said her father, Anil Mussani, a retired family practice physician. 'It's been very difficult with the Lupus. She has the talent, but I think her health has held her back for a long time. This is awesome because she has always wanted to win on the [Duramed] FUTURES Tour.'

Part of the reason Mussani has been able to perform more consistently has been her father's help in finding a Lupus Clinic where doctors have not simply directed the golfer to quit golf and use her Stanford degree in psychology and economics.

'When you have geared your life and career in a certain direction and then you get this big setback, yes, it's pretty devastating,' said her father of Salimah's Lupus diagnosis in 2000 while in college.

Nearly two years ago, Mussani and her father found a new medicine called Cellcept, a chemotherapy drug, which she now takes twice a day. She was able to get off Prednisone, which affected her blood pressure, weight and skin. The new drug has allowed her to have a more normal quality of life. Feeling better has allowed her to play more rounds more consistently.

'Before this new drug, she didn't have that many good days, so when she had a good day, she would push herself and then she would feel even worse,' said her dad. 'Now, she appreciates the good days and has learned when to give herself the rest she needs.'

'Maybe this will give her the confidence that she belongs there on the Tour,' added her mother, Shamim Mussani, a pharmacist in Ontario. 'This win is what she's been waiting for. We knew she had the potential, but her health always held her up. This means a lot.'

Mussani's win means that she put the $14,000 champion's check in her pocket and moved from 49th to 11th on the Tour's season money list. It means that she earned an exemption into the LPGA State Farm Classic (Aug. 28-Sept. 3) in nearby Springfield, Ill. And that LPGA exemption will fit nicely alongside the LPGA's CN Canadian Women's Open (Aug. 10-13), in which she earned a spot by winning a recent CN Canadian Women's Tour event in Ontario.

And most importantly, her win means that Mussani has come full circle in a young golf career that started out with a stamp of doubt and has fast-forwarded into a blossoming career of hope and potential. Voted by her peers last fall as the recipient of the Heather Wilbur Spirit Award (for best exemplifying dedication, courage, perseverance, love of the game and spirit toward achieving goals as a professional golfer), Mussani was nearly speechless when informed that she had won the honor. That came as no surprise for a player who has never used her health challenges as an excuse in competition.

On a challenging 6,539-yard course laden with rough this week, Mussani was right down the middle where she always is. She moved deliberately. She minimized her strokes, as she has done all season -- lowering her stroke average from 76.54 (in 2005) to 71.26 in six events so far this year. Even her word economy is packed with meaning in as few syllables as possible, as if to conserve her energy for the times when she really needs it.

'I had a message in the pro shop from my dad that this was the best Father's Day present ever,' she said with a quiet smile. 'I'm glad he liked it.'

For scores and more information about the Michelob ULTRA Duramed FUTURES Players Championship presented by Ameren and Miles Chevrolet, visit www.duramedfuturestour.com.

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