Spain might have seen its reign as an international soccer power come crashing down in the first two weeks of the World Cup last month in Brazil, but its potential as a major factor in women’s golf was in sharp focus the past few days at the LPGA’s inaugural International Crown.
The Spaniards, who arrived at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills last week with confident games and rather anonymous profiles, left Sunday carrying the glistening silver trophy and wearing the four individual crowns for their victory in the eight-country, 32-player event.
Except for Friday, when Spain was swept by a United States team that failed to reach Sunday’s singles, it was a nearly perfect performance. In fact, Spain didn’t lose any of the six matches it played the past two days, including a 4-0 sweep in singles by a team with only one member ranked in the top 20 in the world.
A 15-foot birdie putt by Belen Mozo on the par-5 16th hole — followed by a subsequent 8-foot missed birdie chance by Thailand’s Moriya Jutanagarn — closed out Mozo’s 3-and-2 victory and clinched the win for her team. Spain (7-2-1) finished with 15 points, four ahead of Sweden (5-4-1).
If anything, Spain’s victory showed how local knowledge and familiarity with each other go a long way toward victory.
Azahara Munoz and Carlota Ciganda were members of the Arizona State team that won the 2009 NCAA women’s title at Caves Valley. Munoz, Ciganda and Beatriz Recari played on the last two Solheim Cup champions for Europe. All four, including Mozo, played junior golf together in Spain.
“It’s our team, and it’s so special,” Mozo said a few moments after making the clinching putt. “You put another four girls [on the team] and maybe not as much. But we have always won together. I think that coming in, we knew that we had that advantage over the other teams.”
Mozo and her teammates were not the only ones celebrating Sunday.
LPGA and Caves Valley officials also were in a pretty good mood after the conclusion of an event that was first conceptualized four years ago and came off with barely a hitch. That Caves Valley was able to play the perfect host did not surprise LPGA commissioner Michael Whan.
“The staff here, even the guys that are raking the bunkers, are like the nicest kids I’ve ever met in my life,” Whan said. “Everyone is so friendly and engaged. It just feels like a club that has done this 100 times. It’s very polished.”
Caves Valley chairman Steve Fader said after the awards ceremony Sunday that he was “absolutely thrilled” with the way the event played out and the course played.
Though admitting that the U.S.’s absence Sunday might have cut down some on the large crowds that lined the fairways and surrounded many of the greens the previous two days (LPGA officials declined to announce attendance figures for the event.), Fader said: “Just the energy that was all around the past four days was unmatched."
The same might be said about the team from Spain.
Unlike a U.S. team that continued to struggle with the chemistry that has been one of its downfalls in recent Solheim Cup competitions against Europe, the four Spanish players have a long history of success that dates back to winning numerous amateur team events in Europe.
“We won so many times,” said Recari, who defeated Mikaela Parmlid of Sweden, 3 and 2.
Losing both matches to the U.S. on Friday helped the Spanish players refocus for the weekend. As Recari rode on a golf cart back to the clubhouse after she and Mozo lost to Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson that day, she told an LPGA official to “keep shining my crown.”
After Spain rallied from last place in Pool A to a four-way tie for second place after Saturday's fourball matches — a point behind Japan going into singles — Ciganda told her teammates that she wanted to play in the first match and take on South Korea’s Na Yeon Choi, ranked 18th in the world. Ciganda is ranked 63rd.
“I just want to play first, win the point and then go support my teammates,” said Ciganda, who won five of the first six holes in what became a resounding 8-and-6 victory — the largest margin of the week in any match. “I knew that we can do it, and I believe in this team more than anyone.”
Munoz recalled looking at a scoreboard early in her match and seeing that Ciganda was already way ahead.
“That was definitely a plus,” said Munoz, who won the first hole against Ai Miyazato of Japan and then didn’t win another until taking two of the last three to win 2 and 1, the closest match Spain had Sunday. “Then Bea [Recari] got going pretty well from the beginning.”