There is a Dustin Johnson-like swagger in the way Carlota Ciganda ambles down the fairway and a Keegan Bradley-like way she backs off shots, as if adding some more data to the equation before letting it fly. The short sleeves she favors accent her biceps, making it look like she’s about to cause the golf ball serious harm. And then she causes the golf ball serious harm.
But there is so much more to the 28-year-old Spaniard than her thundering tee shots and dominating demeanor. Over the last several seasons, she has emerged as one of the most consistent players in women’s golf. Ciganda’s name is so frequently on the leader board that it feels as if something big is looming – perhaps at the 74th U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston.
Ciganda roars into South Carolina on a two-year tear of near misses that began when she was T-5 in the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open. Since then, she’s had a dozen top-five finishes without a win, including third place in last year’s Women’s Open at Shoal Creek and T-4 in this year’s ANA Inspiration, the first LPGA major of the year.
Last week, she was sixth at Kingsmill, one of the more demanding tracks on the LPGA. And it’s those courses that demand the most where Ciganda gives her best.
“I like difficult golf courses,” Ciganda said Tuesday at Charleston about her strong play in the last two Women’s Opens. “I play well when the scores are higher and the setup demands precision and focus. It keeps my mind in the game.”
Ciganda hit the ground running after turning pro in 2011, winning three times in her first two seasons on the Ladies European Tour. But when she started playing fulltime on the LPGA Tour in 2013 it took her 94 starts until she picked up her first win at the 2016 KEB HanaBank Championship in Korea, following up a month later with her second win, in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
It was late in the winless streak that Ciganda started to put together a new team. First, she added swing coach Jorge Parada. Then, toward the end of the 2016 season, she picked up Terry McNamara, who caddied for Annika Sorenstam for nearly 10 years.
Added to the new coach and new caddie was a new perspective – a belief that she’s a winner. She trusts the technique she’s worked on with Parada and her belief has been bolstered by the easy demeanor and vast knowledge of McNamara, who won 68 times with eight majors, including the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open, with Sorenstam.
“He has so much experience,” Ciganda said about McNamara. “He knows what it takes to win. And he knows how to keep me calm.”
McNamara, smiled slightly, shrugged and said: “She has so much talent and she’s starting to trust how good she is.”
Ciganda’s amateur career was packed with reasons for her to believe she’s a winner. She captured the British Amateur in 2007; the European Championship in 2004 and 2008 and while at Arizona State University became the first player to win the Pac-10 individual title in consecutive years, 2009 and 2010.
“I have a good team around me now,” Ciganda said about her run of solid play. “I started working with Jorge about four and a half years ago and I’ve improved a lot. I’ve become very consistent. I’d like to make more putts, but I think everyone can say that.”
Ciganda’s stats are solid from the tee to the green. She’s 13th on the LPGA in driving distance, 11th in greens in regulation, 14th in putts/GIR and ninth in scoring. She’s always been good enough – playing for Europe in the last three Solheim Cups and helping Spain to a surprise victory over favorites United States and Korea in the 2014 International Crown.
But now she’s looking to be better than good enough, She’s riding another winless streak – this one 58 events – and in the Country Club of Charleston she may have found the right place to take things to the next level. This could be a venue where she converts one of those top-fives into a top-of-the-leader board finish.
“This is a real difficult course,” she said. “I think it is a second-shot golf course. The greens are big, but you have to be in the right places on the greens. Lag putting is going to be very important.”
The generous fairways and massive greens could mesh quite well with Ciganda’s game. The layout lends itself to her controlled aggression.
“This course is not as demanding off the tee as some of the Open courses we’ve played,” she said. “I think that suits me. I can hit driver and have shorter clubs into the greens, which makes it easier to leave the ball in the right place.”
Step by step, Ciganda has put together a team and a strategy that has translated into success in every way but winning. But it sure does feel like all those near misses are leading to something and in Charleston it feels a little like she’s found the right place.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.