One year later, top rookie Munoz still shines

Azahara Munoz

ORLANDO, Fla. – On this day a year ago, Azahara Munoz would have been rushing back to her room after the first round at the LPGA Tour Championship to ditch her golf spikes and ball cap for a dress and heels. The striking Spaniard would be returning later in the evening to collect the Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year award.

Munoz stood on the stage that night and addressed the award’s namesake, her friends and former Arizona State teammates and, finally, her mother. That she did in Spanish, through tears.

But that was then.

“When you come out, nobody really expects anything out of you, anything you do is great,” Munoz said after opening the Titleholders with a 3-under 69 that left her T-6. “I remember my first top 20 everybody was like, ‘Wow, a top 20!’ Now, a top 20 no one really gets excited about.”

A year later, Munoz, 24, also holds herself to a different standard. She’s a veteran of a Solheim Cup now, having not only earned a pick from European captain Alison Nicholas, but going 2-1-1 to back up that pick. It was easily the highlight of her season.

“I think it’s the best week of golf – not that I’ve played, I’ve played better – but everything together by far,” she said.

Munoz battled a swing change at the beginning of the season. She didn’t even break into that top 20 until August, and began to pile on a little more pressure, she explained, as her play became worse and worse. But once she was safely on the team, Munoz began to hit the ball better and finally could relax. She finished third in Malaysia and second in Taiwan after helping Europe to a victory.

“I don’t feel so much pressure anymore,” she said. “Every tournament, I knew I was on the edge, if I miss a cut that might be it, you never know.”

This season, Munoz maintained much of the same routine that seemed to work so well last season. She still travels with Swede Pernilla Lindberg and they stayed at many of the same hotels or private housing as last year.

“It’s nicer because you know more things, you know what airport to fly to,” she said. “You know where registration is, the locker room. Little things, the details like that.”

The Titleholders marks the final U.S. appearance for Munoz. Without Q-School obligations in December – and with more gas in the tank than at the end of last year – Munoz will play the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters in three weeks. Yes, it’s still tournament golf, but Munoz is looking forward to it for different reasons.

“It’s more like a holiday tournament,” she explained. “My boyfriend is coming with me, we’re going to stay for four days after.”

Munoz has earned it.

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