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Spanish Armada: Ciganda, Munoz, Mozo Shed Teammates Role At Women's Am

By Stuart Hall

Eugene, Ore. – The players were easily distinguishable among the myriad of colored bags, blouses and headwear dotting the Eugene Country Club grounds at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

Emerging from the clubhouse within minutes of each other on Tuesday strolled Carolota Ciganda, Belen Mozo and Azahara Munoz. Embroidered on the right chest of their red-colored sleeveless golf shirts was the gold and black crest of the Spanish Golf Federation.

Spanish 2006 Women's World Amateur teammates Belen Mozo (left), Azahara Munoz (right) and Carlota Ciganda (second from right) are playing as individuals this week at the U.S. Women's Amateur. (USGA Museum)

While they are playing for individual glory this week, the trio also seeks to honor their homeland. Each moved easily through the 36-hole stroke-play format and into match play, which begins Wednesday with 32 matches.

“This is a great honor for all three of us, but also a chance to show how good golf is back in Spain,” said Mozo, 19, of Cadiz. “We are all very happy to be here.”

Not since 2003 has Spain been so well represented. That year, at Philadelphia Country Club in Gladwyne, Pa., Tania Elósegui, Nuria Clau and Carmen Alonso all advanced to match play. Elósegui and Clau reached the second round before being eliminated.

This current trio, though, may be even more talented. In 2006, they led Spain to an eighth-place finish at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in Cape Town, South Africa. Individually, they have each won prestigious international events. Munoz and Mozo have also won at the collegiate level, while Ciganda will join Munoz as a teammate at Arizona State University in January.

“I think we’re all very good players,” said Munoz, 20, of Malaga, smiling in an attempt to sidestep the question of who is the better of the three.

Munoz has a valid point.

In May, Munoz made her first collegiate win the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, N.M. Playing in the final group with Munoz was Mozo, who was a sophomore at the University of Southern California. Mozo finished fourth individually, but her efforts helped the Trojans to the team title over rival UCLA. Munoz edged UCLA’s Tiffany Joh in a playoff for the individual title.

“I did not mind her winning,” said Mozo. “I was so happy for her that when I saw her cry, I began to cry. That tells you what kind of friendship we have.”

Munoz said the final-round threesome, which included Joh, was certainly not unique or awkward.

“No, we all get along fine,” said Munoz. “We laugh and talk the entire round and no one get upset with the other. We have no rivalry. She was very happy that I won just as I would have been if she had won.”

Earlier this summer, Munoz’s bid to win a second Spanish Women’s Amateur title – she  won in 2005 – was denied by Ciganda. Munoz was runner-up.

Supported by the Spanish Golf Federation, this is the sixth amateur competition that the women have attended together this summer. On Thursday, Ciganda, who hails from northern Spain, met her southern Spain friends in Madrid. From there, they flew to Eugene with stopovers in Atlanta, Houston and Salt Lake City.

“That was a long story,” said Mozo, rolling her eyes. “We have to take four planes and flew for about a day and a half. I guess our federation didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money and got us the cheapest price. But we’re use to long flights.”

Belen Mozo won the 2008 NCAA Division I individual title in a playoff this past May. (USGA Museum)

The three are staying with a nearby host family and are nearly inseparable. With coincidental back-to-back-to-back starting times for stroke play, they have arrived at the course at the same time, eaten lunch together and then hung out in the evenings.

Ciganda, the youngest of the three, began playing the game at age 5 by the side of her 5-handicap father, Jesus, and his friends.

“We live in a very small village and everyone plays golf,” said Ciganda. “So it was just like a natural thing to do.”

Making her second U.S. Women’s Amateur appearance – she lost in the third round in 2006 up the road at Pumpkin Ridge outside of Portland – Ciganda won the European Women’s Championship in 2004 and last year’s Ladies British Open Amateur, which made her fully exempt for this week.

Ciganda likens the 6,516-yard Robert Trent Jones Sr. design to courses she grew up playing back home; layouts with towering trees and large greens, and she feels comfortable.

When choosing where to attend college, Ciganda also felt at home in the Arizona desert.

“I like the weather, I need the sun to play golf,” she said in broken English. “Plus, my friend [Munoz] go there, so I think she will help me a lot.”

Likewise, Munoz views her role with Ciganda as similar to being a big sister, which the Federation encourages. But the older Munoz said she didn’t try to sway Ciganda to choose ASU over USC.

“No, that was her own decision,” Munoz said. “I just tried to tell her the best things with where I go. I played the Thunderbird [Country Club in Tucson] and just loved it. That helped my decision, plus it was a very good school and I like the atmosphere.”

Was there ever the possibility of the three friends playing together?

“No, no,” Mozo said smiling. “[Ciganda and Munoz] actually asked me at lunch why I chose USC and I told them I think I was just meant to be in California. I considered [California]-Berkeley and then I went down to Los Angeles and visited. I knew then I was meant to play there. It was just me.”

Her decision also amplifies each player’s individuality. Unlike her friends, Mozo did not initially gravitate to golf. Mozo’s mother, Isabel, would drop Belen off with her older brother, who was taking lessons, because it was easier.

“I was like this wild and active kid, and I thought golf was this very slow motion sport,” she said. “But when I started to take it seriously, I really started to enjoy it.”

While best of friends and teammates – right down to their matching tops – they are playing for themselves this week. And should one of them win?

“I would like for one of us to win, yes,” Mozo said. “But I wouldn’t want to have to beat one of them to win it. That would be hard.”

But an entire nation would be proud.

Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship Web sites.



Championship Facts

U.S. Women's Amateur

HISTORY: The U.S. Women’s Amateur is one of the United States Golf Association’s original three championships. It was first conducted in 1895, shortly after the inaugural U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open. The Women’s Amateur has since been conducted every year except 1917-18, when it was temporarily suspended because of World War I, and 1942-45, when it was suspended because of World War II.

PAR & YARDAGE: Yardage for the Eugene Country Club will be set at 6,484 (stroke play) / 6,516 (match play) yards, par 72.

ARCHITECT: Opened in 1926, the course was designed by H. Chandler Egan. In 1967, Robert Trent Jones Sr. reversed the routing of the original Egan design (i.e., No. 18 tee essentially became the first tee, etc.).

Fairways – Cut to ˝ inch
Tees and collars of greens – Cut to 3/8 inch
Putting greens – Prepared to be firm and fast to measure approximately 11 to 11 1/2 feet on the USGA Stimpmeter
Intermediate rough – Cut to 1 ˝ inches, approximately 6 feet wide along fairways
Primary rough – Cut to 2 ˝ to 3 inches
Player courtesy walks – Cut to 1 ˝ inches, approximately 6 feet wide
The championship setup results in a USGA Course Rating™ of 78.1 and a Slope Rating® of 144

FORMAT: The Women’s Amateur is conducted with 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying. The low 64 scorers then advance to match play, with the champion determined by a 36-hole match-play final.

WHO CAN ENTER: The championship is open to female amateurs who have USGA handicap indexes not exceeding 5.4.

ENTRIES: Entries for the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur closed on June 18. There were 960 entries received for the 2008 championship, just shy of the record 969 entries received for the 2006 U.S. Women’s Amateur.



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