Spain’s greatest ever amateur golfer, Carlota Ciganda, tied for second on her professional debut at the 2011 Tenerife Ladies Match Play, finishing a stroke behind Becky Brewerton at Golf Las Américas on Sunday.
This week, she is teeing up at the Deutsche Bank Ladies Swiss Open, having received an invitation to play at the 72-hole Strokeplay tournament and will undoubtedly be one to watch in the field.
The 21-year-old from Pamplona turned professional in May and explained her reasoning: “I was studying in Arizona State and after the nationals in May I decided to turn pro because I wanted to play this summer as a pro,” she said.
She has already played in several Ladies European Tour events as an amateur and first took part in the 2005 Tenerife Ladies Open aged 14. Although on that occasion she did not make the cut, she was the best Spanish representative at several pro tournaments, including the 2007 Open de Espana, when she finished eighth and the 2008 Tenerife Ladies Open when she was third, three shots behind the winner, Rebecca Hudson from England. She also tied for 31st at last year’s Omega Dubai Ladies Masters.
On the amateur circuit, she was the individual European champion in 2004 and 2008, won gold medals in the European under-16 competitions.
She was the British Ladies Amateur champion in 2007 after defeating Anna Nordqvist in the final and was second in 2008 and 2009, when she finished ahead of Azahara Muñoz.
She also played Match Play at the Junior Ryder Cup in 2004 and 2006 and at the PING Junior Solheim Cup in 2005 and 2007.
She competed in the United States whilst attending Arizona State University from 2008 to 2011 and was given a special mention by the NCAA in 2009.
Now that she has turned professional, she is being managed by Gorka Guillen at IMG who manages most of the male Spanish pros and obviously there are high expectations, but Carlota seems to take them in her stride. She is well grounded, thanks in part to her sporting family.
Her uncle, José Angel ‘Cuco’ Ziganda, was a former centre forward for Osasuna football club in Pamplona. As his nickname suggests, he was known to be very shrewd and cunning, like a cuckoo.
“He is always giving me support and telling me things like, ‘have fun and enjoy’,” Carlota says. “My family is really sporty and they know that it is not easy. They are supportive and they want the best for me.”
She says her father was her greatest influence. “I think my dad; I started to play with him when I was five. He always gave me advice to have fun, play with no pressure. It’s good. They are going to love you anyway so don’t worry. Have fun. I think that’s really important.”
Her brother, Iñigo, caddied for her in Tenerife. While some may doubt the wisdom of this, they get on well. Even though she is not yet a member of the LET, Carlota already has a lot of friends on tour.
Her best friends are fellow Spaniards Azahara Muñoz, Belen Mozo and Marta Silva, who is going to turn professional next year.
She is also friends with Paula Marti, whom she defeated in the first round of the matchplay, before ousting Beth Allen in the second.
She says: “A lot of players I know from the amateur game, they are really nice. I know Mel Reid, Florentyna: I played with them on the Junior Solheim Cup team so they are friends too. I like going out with my friends, going to the movies, going out for dinner, listening to music.”
She has been with the same golf coach, Rogelio Echeverria, for 15 years since she started aged five and plays at Ulzama GC, the same club as Ana Larrañeta.
She hopes that her professional career will bring as much satisfaction as her amateur.
“When you win tournaments it’s really nice because you can see that the hard work pays off,” she said. “When I won the British Amateur and the European in 2004 at my home club, or 2008, in Austria that was really nice. Winning as a team, the Europeans with Spain or with Arizona State, the nationals in the States was really big too. When you win a good tournament, I think that’s really nice.”
Her plan for the summer is to get some more LET invitations and then go to the LPGA Qualifying School in July. “There are three stages and they changed this year, one in July, one in September and one in December.”
Although several players, such as the 2002 European No.1 Paula Marti, have hailed her as a possible future World No.1, Carlota says: “I would love to but I think it’s really hard. You need to practise a lot. I like practising, I like having fun; but I like having a life.
“I don’t think that the number one in the world, like the Koreans right now, I think they are just practising and only golf. I don’t think I would be happy like that, so keep improving and having fun.”