LET member and European Solheim Cup star Carlota Ciganda came from five shots back and birdied the first playoff hole to defeat Alison Lee and capture her first ever LPGA win at the 2016 LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship.

“It means the world me,” Ciganda said of her first LPGA win. “It’s pretty nice to win here in Korea where women’s golf is so big. I’m just so happy to get my first win here.

“It’s very special because it’s been a tough few years for me. My coach passed away two years ago and I had to look for a new coach. I changed caddies, too. It’s been a long journey, but at the same time it’s really nice to get the win. I love competing and playing and being an athlete. I couldn’t ask for a better life.”

Ciganda shot a final-round 2-under 70 on the Sky 72 Club’s Ocean Course to finish in a tie at 10-under-par with Lee who struggled to a 3-over 75 on Sunday.

Lee had been the wire-to-wire leader of the event heading into Sunday, but it was clear early on that Ciganda would be the one she had to catch in the final round. Ciganda birdied five of her first eight holes to go out in 31 on the front nine and following a birdie at the 10th that moved her to 14-under, Ciganda held a 5-shot lead over Lee who had carded four bogeys in a five-hole stretch (holes 6-10).

But things got interesting at the end of round as Ciganda hit a snag over her final five holes, beginning with a double bogey on the 14th. She followed with bogeys on 16 and 18 to finish at 10-under. Lee meanwhile looked to have recovered from her rough start, thanks to birdies on 15 and 17 that put her at 11-under. All Lee needed was a par on the final hole to secure her first LPGA victory but she hit her approach shot into the water and had to get up-and-down just to force a playoff.

The two players went back to the 18th for the playoff and after Lee was unable to chip in for birdie, Ciganda drained an 8-foot birdie putt to become the eighth Rolex First-Time Winner on the LPGA Tour in 2016.

“I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous on the last three, four holes,” Ciganda. “But I was positive. I just tried my best and I tried to play each shot the best I could. So it’s not that I was giving up or anything. It’s very special because it’s been tough the last two years. At the same time, I like fighting and everything.”

DIFFICULTIES MAKE THE WIN MORE SPECIAL FOR CIGANDA
Waiting to break through for your first LPGA victory can be tough, but for Carlota Ciganda it was nothing compared to the difficulties that she was enduring off the golf course over the past two years. Ciganda’s longtime coach Rogelio Echeverria, who she called her second dad and who she worked with for more than 19 years, passed away. He was her first coach, who began teaching her when she was just five years old.

“I did everything with him always on the golf course,” Ciganda said. “He was always there when I had my weeks off. Always very close to his family. At the same time, it was a moment also for me to think. I think when these things happen it’s always for the best. I have to thank him everything because I play golf because of him.”

As she mourned the loss of Echeverria, Ciganda began looking for her new instructor. It was the first of a few changes she would make over the coming year. She began working with Jorge Parada last year and then this offseason she decided to split with her longtime caddie, Javi Urquizu who had been on her bag for her first four years on Tour, in order to find someone with a little more experience. Ciganda partnered up with Terry McNamara, who caddied for Annika Sorenstam for much of her career, in the Bahamas at the start of this year and the fit has been a good one.

“As soon as I worked with him I knew that’s what I needed because the way was talking to me, the way he was on the course, and the experience,” Ciganda said of McNamara. “I thought I needed someone out there that knew the courses and knew how to play like all the strategies, especially at last few holes, last days.”

Overall the changes haven’t been easy for Ciganda, who got emotional in her press conference as she thanked both her longtime coach and her longtime caddie for helping to get to this victory. But she is also thankful for the great relationships she has already built with her new coach and new caddie as well.

“I’m just very happy right now with my team, my family, and I just want to enjoy this moment,” Ciganda said. “This tournament is for my coach. He’s out there watching me.”

WITH DUE RESPECT TO THE KING
Three players from Thailand dressed in black for Sunday’s final round at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in remembrance of the King of Thailand who passed away this week. Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, as well as Pornanong Phatlum will wear black during every tournament round through this year’s final tournament, the CME Group Tour Championship, out of respect for the King.

Phatlum, with 3 year-to-date top 10s, said, “We can’t really do anything since we’re here, so just focus on do our best for the King. You know, like every action is just like hoping the King knows what we are doing for the country. That’s what the King was hoping for.”

BY THE NUMBERS
4 – Number of players from Spain who have won on the LPGA Tour (Marta Figueras-Dotti, Beatriz Recari, Azahara Munoz & Carlota Ciganda)

8 – Rolex First-Time Winners this year (Ha Na Jang, Haru Nomura, Jenny Shin, Ariya Jutanugarn, Brooke Henderson, Caroline Masson, In Gee Chun, Carlota Ciganda)

5 – Playoffs on the LPGA Tour so far this year

25 – Projected position in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings for Carlota Ciganda following her win at LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship (up from 37th)