Solheim Cup: Azahara Munoz aiming for a hat-trick
Aza Munoz is one of a select few, being one of only five Europeans who have won back-to-back Solheims – the others are Suzann Pettersen, Anna Nordqvist, Catriona Matthew and Caroline Hedwall.
The Spaniard made her debut in Ireland and was an integral part of the brilliant late recovery which saw Alison Nicholas’ side reclaim the trophy for the first time in eight years. Then, two years ago, she was part of a record-breaking effort in Colorado where the Americans were routinely stuffed 18-10 in their own backyard.
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Munoz played in three Junior Solheim competitions, winning once and losing heavily twice, but she has only known good times in the main event. And, with the 27-year-old a part of Carin Koch’s team for September, let’s hope the lucky run continues…
How did you find out you had got a captain’s pick for the Solheim Cup in Ireland in 2011?
I was playing in the Canadian Open at the time – I was on the bus at 4.30am and I saw Alison Nicholas’ (Europe’s captain) name on my phone and got so nervous. She gave me the longest speech without saying if I was in or out and then, finally, she said it was good news.
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You were then selected in the opening foursomes. How helpful was it to have Catriona Matthew as your partner?
I only found out in the opening ceremony, I don’t remember being told before! Maybe I had been! I loved it, she couldn’t have been any better, the same with her husband who was on her bag. She is so calm which helped given it was my first match and we managed to win.
Were the nerves as much as you thought?
I was less nervous as I was expecting to be dying, literally. Everyone was telling me how nervous I was going to be, and I was shaking and I could barely tee the ball up, but it wasn’t quite as bad as I had anticipated.
Are you more suited to foursomes?
In Ireland I was surprised as I thought I was more suited to fourballs but, then, thinking about it, maybe I am better suited to foursomes. I don’t make too many mistakes, if I miss a fairway it is just off the fairway, if I miss a green then it will be just off the green.
If you put me with someone like Carlota (Ciganda) then maybe not so much as she hits great shots from trouble, I could never play with someone like that as I’m not used to it and I can’t do it as well.
After two days the scores were 8-8 with the momentum with the Americans. What was said in the team room on that Saturday night?
It was really funny as Alison got the world rankings out on a piece of paper and she burnt them! She said they mean nothing, it was just one match and everybody is as good as everybody else. There was no doubt in our minds that we could do it, on paper they were better than us but so what.
It looked really bad but we had a couple of rain delays and Caroline, Suzann and I were on carts in a line next to each other waiting to go back out.
We needed two and a half points from our matches and Caroline was two down and Suzann and I were all square. We all said let’s not look at any leaderboards and just try and win our own point.
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And did you?
I could not stop looking at what Caroline was doing ahead of me! It was so much fun as there were so many roars. I couldn’t see what Suzann was doing but you could hear things.
It was about 130 yards and I hit a little 8-iron, it couldn’t have been any more perfect for me" You then played one of the shots of the year, pretty much stone dead at 17 against Angela Stanford?
It was about 130 yards and I hit a little 8-iron, it couldn’t have been any more perfect for me. I was so nervous, I could see the European team to the left of the green and I could see Alison pacing up and down as she couldn’t keep still.
When I hit it I said ’be good’ as it was going straight at it and then the team started jumping up and down so I knew it was pretty close. I’ve never felt so much relief but I still had to make the three-footer. That is definitely the best shot I have ever hit.
Aside from the nerves how much does matchplay free you up?
It is different. The first two days you have a partner and I really love it. If they hit a great shot you get really excited, it is easier for me as if you make a mistake you can quickly forget about it. I think I am a more aggressive putter in matchplay, I always get it to the hole and that gives you more chance.
Why are the Spaniards often such big factors in Ryder and Solheim Cups?
We are very fiery and it is something about playing on a team. We are normally pretty happy, Carlota and I would always be dancing on the bus and we like to be surrounded by people. We thrive in a team environment and we play our best golf like that.
You and Carlota played together in the afternoon of all afternoons two years ago when Europe won all four matches. How special was that?
Carlota played with Suzann (Pettersen) on the first day and she was really nervous and didn’t play very good even though they won. I said to Lotta Neumann that I would love to play together as she is so comfortable with me, we had been foursomes partners in European Team Championships when we were 15. But, if Lotta had other plans then it didn’t matter.
We played together and Carlota made a putt on the last to win and everyone went absolutely bananas. Then Karine Icher, who I had partnered in the foursomes, holed from off the green at the 18th and I lost it.
In some ways I wish the match finished right there. I was happier then than Sunday. The Sunday was incredible but that afternoon was perfect. My fiancÃ© caddied for me that week and he has the photo (above left) of us after Carlota and my win on the Saturday as his screensaver so I see it every day.
Is it true that you sing ’Europe’ to yourself when the American fans start singing U-S-A?
Yes I do! It can get to you every time you hear U-S-A so I would sing Europe. They are good fans but it never stops and it can get to you.
What did Charley Hull bring to the team?
Charley was fun, it wasn’t like she was 14 so you could have a conversation with her and she is really nice. She makes you laugh, she was on the 1st about to make her debut and she says ’when am I supposed to get nervous?’ Things come out of her mouth and it makes you laugh. On the course she doesn’t care who she plays and is fearless.
What did you think when you heard that she asked Paula Creamer, who she’d just beaten 5&4, to autograph her ball?
When I heard my first thought was that Paula probably wanted to hit her. That is Charley, I would never have asked but it’s not a bad thing. She just doesn’t care!
About | Azahara Munoz was part of Europe’s triumphant Solheim Cup teams of 2011 and 2013, and plays on the LPGA Tour.
Twitter: @SolheimCup2015 @azaharagolf