DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Melissa Luellen had trouble sleeping for the better part of seven months. How could Arizona State, a school located in the golf hotbed of suburban Phoenix, not be able to field a team? Luellen replayed the decisions she had made and the circumstances that led to her competing last fall with two players. She’d just led the Sun Devils to the 2009 NCAA Championship, for crying out loud.
CENTRAL: Gulugian, UCLA take charge
“When things go well, you take the pat on the back,” Luellen said. “When things go awry, you take all the blame. I take that responsibility.”
Luellen stood by the snack-bar area at LPGA International’s ninth green May 5 with a look of relief. She’d managed to fill out a roster and earn a spot in the NCAA East Regional. The Sun Devils opened with a 7-over 295 and were tied for fifth place as teams were finishing the first round. Amazingly, they’re ranked 10th by Golfweek. Luellen reports that her contract at ASU has been extended another five years. She now sleeps soundly.
“They’re not afraid of making mistakes,” said Luellen, who has three freshmen in her lineup. “We don’t have anything to lose.”
Carlota Ciganda of Spain and Giulia Molinaro of Italy are tremendous friends who have enjoyed their time in Tempe. But Ciganda, even with her best friend around, struggled mightily to find motivation with no team surrounding her. She told Luellen in the fall that she planned to turn professional. Ciganda considered leaving in December, but decided she owed ASU more than that, and agreed to finish out the spring semester.
“It’s nice to be able to fully, completely support someone who has really supported us,” Luellen said.
Freshman Daniela Ordonez can’t say enough about what the two juniors have meant to all the new faces, helping them to manage pressure, expectation and homesickness.
I’ve been exhausted; I’ve been sick; I’ve been homesick,” said the 17-year-old Ordonez. “I’ve felt sad, disappointed sometimes. But I think the challenge is what motivates me to stay. There are moments when you just want to get on a plane and get the hell out of here. But you say, OK, there’s a lot of things that I’m learning.”
Ordonez, a native of Bogota, Colombia, lives with her compatriot, fellow freshman Laura Blanco. The pair often are confused as sisters. They competed against each other since age 10 in Colombia. Justine Lee, a South Korean who was raised in Australia, rounds out this international fivesome. Luellen committed to Lee sight unseen and calls her a pleasant surprise.
There were no teams goals to start the season: “We didn’t really know what we had,” Luellen said.
This marks the 10th time ASU has played this spring, the heaviest load of any team in the country. That kind of action pleases Ciganda, who said they have a close-knit group. They even won the Donnis Thompson Invitational in Hawaii last March.
“The environment that they’ve created has been really enjoyable,” Luellen said.
Ciganda, known as “Chigi,” plans to turn professional immediately after the NCAA Championship later this month. She plans to make her pro debut in the Ladies European Tour’s Tenerife Ladies Match Play on June 10-12.
“I’m not going because I’m not happy or I have complaints,” Ciganda said. “I just feel it’s the right moment to go.”