POTOMAC -- It was so long ago that Billy Andrade couldn't remember, for a moment, when or what it was. When was the last time he had won a golf tournament?
"Rhode Island, 1987," said a woman in the back of the room as Andrade hesitated.
Oh, that's right, Andrade said, with an acknowledging nod to his wife Jody. It was the Rhode Island Open four years ago, his first professional tournament. Won all of $2,000 in an event carrying a total purse of $10,000.
"It was a nice victory," Andrade said. "At the time it was great. But I knew I had a long way to go."
Longer, perhaps, than he anticipated. When Andrade captured the $1 million Kemper Open on the first hole of a playoff with his close friend, Jeff Sluman, yesterday at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel, it was the first win of his four-year PGA Tour career.
It was an unlikely matchup, Andrade vs. Sluman. This was an event that bristled with names like Greg Norman, Ben Crenshaw, Hal Sutton, Larry Mize and Lanny Wadkins.
Andrade and Sluman had only a tour win between them, Sluman's PGA title in 1988. Andrade was close once before, when he tied for second in the 1989 Buick Open.
But there they were, Andrade and Sluman, astride the field after 72 holes at 21-under-par 263. It was Andrade who won the $180,000 first prize when he birdied the first playoff hole, No. 17, after Sluman's first shot landed in the water.
"I was shocked when he hit in the water," Andrade said.
"To win is a big step. Somebody asked me last week what it felt like to win. I had to say I didn't know.
"I had won as a junior and as an amateur, and, yeah, the Rhode Island Open. But I had never won where it counts. Until you do, you're not fully respected."
Andrade, 27, who was born in Fall River, Mass., and now splits his year between Atlanta and Bristol, R.I., entered the final round tied with Norman at 196, a shot behind leader Sutton. After 15 holes, he was two behind Sluman, then the leader.
It was then that a spectator said consolingly to Andrade, as if he were out of the chase, "Nice showing, anyway."
"That ticked me off," Andrade said. "I was two back. It wasn't over. I had a chance. The fan had a right to say that, because he paid his money. But it got me going."
Andrade pulled even by shooting birdies on Nos. 16 and 17, while Sluman parred them. Both parred 18, Andrade managing to do that despite having to blast out of not one but two sand traps.
That forced a playoff. This time Andrade sank a seven-foot putt for a birdie and the championship, thereby posting a two on the 17th hole for the second time in a half hour.
Andrade and Sluman have become chummy over the last three years. On the putting green before yesterday's round, Sluman sidled over to Andrade and said, "Let's go, pal, you and me."
They have been friends since Andrade's rookie year, 1988. The Andrades have stayed at Sluman's place during the Bob Hope Classic in Palm Springs, Calif., and Sluman has bunked in at the Andrades' residence in Atlanta. They talk a lot by phone during the off weeks.
"Jeff and I hit it off," Andrade said. "I knew he was due to play well when he said that to me on the putting green. It was great the way it ended up. But it's tough when it's your best friend."
Said Sluman, "It's tremendously disappointing to lose. You battle the heat and the field for four days . . . But I couldn't have lost to a nicer guy -- my best friend."
Andrade, who won an Arnold Palmer scholarship to Wake Forest and led the Demon Deacons to the 1986 NCAA championship, surpassed his 1990 earnings total by winning yesterday. The first-place check of $180,000 raised his total this year to $266,963; last year he earned $231,362.
Andrade almost neglected to commit to the Kemper with a phone call the Friday before the event. He was playing in a pro-am in Texas a week ago last Wednesday when his partner, the son of Kemper tourney director Ben Brundridge, asked him on the fifth hole, "Are you playing in the Kemper?"
Andrade said yes, but that he had forgotten to commit.
In mid-round, he headed for the closest phone to make the mandatory phone call.