With all the understandable hullabaloo about the retirement of the great Se Ri Pak last week, it was easy to forget there was actually a golf tournament going on. The Sky 72 Golf Club Ocean Course in Incheon, South Korea, played host to the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship and, in my opinion, as one star exited stage left, another entered stage right. Carlota Ciganda chalked up her maiden win on the LPGA Tour.
For the 26-year old Spaniard from Pamplona it has been quite a long wait. She’s in her fifth year playing full time in America with two Solheim Cups under her belt and many people – I am one of them – thought she would win at the highest level sooner rather than later. Sport is many things, however. Predictable is not one of them.
I first saw Carlota play as a 15-year old in the Girls’ European Team Championships in Lucerne back in 2005. She topped the individual scoring with rounds of 70 and 68 to help Spain lead the team qualification by a huge 11 shots. The automatic draw meant they would play Wales in the first round of the knockout. I was coaching the Welsh side at the time and told the girls not to worry that we were a massive 34 shots adrift of the Spaniards in the qualifying. We agreed the early start might not suit the Spanish and so it proved, with Wales winning both foursomes and then sneaking a singles win to take the tie 3-2 under the inspired captaincy of the late Sue Turner. It was one of our best-ever results against a top quality team and we ended up with a bronze medal.
Right from that moment, however, there was something that marked Carlota out as special. She didn’t go beyond the 14th green in any of her singles matches and remained completely unfazed when the president of the Spanish Federation, the redoubtable Emma Garcia Ogara, clubbed her over the back of the 18th green, out of bounds, into the bar, in one of the foursomes matches.
Carlota’s long, flowing, willowy swing has always led to wayward shots but her short game is of Seve-like proportions and her mental strength is simply awesome. At the 2013 Solheim Cup in Colorado she won three matches out of three despite barely being able to keep the ball on the course. It was one of the most compelling performances I have ever seen. It’s not nearly as difficult to get the results when you are in control of your swing as it is when you have no idea where the ball is going. A mind like a steel trap, guile, quality course management and total self-understanding, along with supreme emotional control were in evidence to a remarkable degree. In other words, all those things that go into making a player great.
Carlota has had to overcome the loss of her lifelong coach, Rogelio Echeverria, in 2014, and the last two years have been particularly hard. She is resilient, however, surviving the bumps in the road of a professional athlete and I am sure this will be the first of many wins around the world.
Salud, Carlota. It has been fun watching you for the past eleven years. I’m looking forward to the next eleven.