WOMEN'S GOLF

Spanish golf in hands of the girls

While the men struggle for results, Muñoz, Ciganda and Recari march on

Azahara Muñoz eyes a putt during the final round of the Open de France, which she won last week.
Azahara Muñoz eyes a putt during the final round of the Open de France, which she won last week.LET

"This is a very good generation, very young and with a great future. For once the women are getting more attention than the men," says Marta Figueras-Dotti, the pioneer of women's golf in Spain and current coach of the national team, which includes Carlota Ciganda (23), Azahara Muñoz (25) and Beatriz Recari (26).

Figueras-Dotti, who played on the LPGA Tour from 1984 to 2000, says the current crop of Spanish female golfers, which between them have won four titles this year, are now driving the cart as the country's leading men have fallen by the wayside.

"At 13, Azahara was already shining, for her talent and her feeling for golf. The best thing about her is her head, her consistency and her awareness. She can really conquer the world."

Of Ciganda, Figueras-Dotti speaks of a "natural, pure talent. She sees the game like few others. She stands out for her short game and because of the way she plays, she clearly enjoys herself. Golf is her passion. Beatriz has such precision in the long game, she works hard and has fierce discipline. She is determination personified." To these three, Figueras-Dotti adds 25-year-old Belén Mozo — "She is ready to explode after a spectacular amateur career" — María Hernández and Tania Elosegui as part of a new wave of Spanish women's golf.

I guess we pushed each other to improve from a young age"

Muñoz won her second title on the Ladies European Tour (LET) last weekend at the Open de France, having won the Madrid Masters in October 2009, her professional debut. Ciganda, who was the top ranked player on the LET last season, won the Germany Open in June, while Recari has taken the US Tour by storm, winning the KIA Classic in California in March and the Marathon Classic in Ohio in June. Together, Muñoz, Ciganda and Recari represented Europe in the Solheim Cup, contributing to seven of the 18 points the old continent amassed in defeating the US on home soil.

The Spanish men, meanwhile, have managed a few runners-up finishes (Sergio García in Qatar and Miguel Ángel Jiménez in the Netherlands), three third places and seven fourths. But so far not a single victory.

Muñoz, Ciganda and Recari grew up together in the national teams and the former two chose to emigrate to America, to the University of Arizona, where it is possible to combine studies with competition on the potent US college circuit. However, in Spain a golfer has to choose between the books and the clubs, which is the case for Recari, who has been a professional on the LET since 2006 and the LPGA since 2010.

The three have been colleagues and rivals for many years. Muñoz and Ciganda battled it out in the final of the British Ladies Amateur, with victory going to the former. This week the two traveled to China to meet up with Recari to embark on a five-week tour of Asia.

"This season is taking a lot out of me," said Muñoz, "with the change in my swing and other things. I have been too long without seeing my coach and everything builds up."

And how did this generation emerge? "I guess that from a young age we pushed each other to improve and now the effects are being seen. The federation has helped us a lot."

"From the age of 15 it was obvious that Azahara and Carlota were better than all the rest," says sports psychologist Óscar del Río, who has not worked with Recari. "They function very well under pressure and have a lot of belief in themselves. They never crumple under pressure - on the contrary, they thrive. In the United States the result and the competition is what counts, and they know very well how to compete."

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