5 things I learned playing golf with a 5-time Solheim Cupper
THE BRONX, N.Y. — Playing in a pro-am is one of the highest of highs an amateur golfer can experience. For one day, you get to play like the pros do.
Well, maybe not exactly like the pros do (they still hit shots that most of us can only dream of), but you do get to experience what life is like between the ropes. You get to dine with the players, have a caddie fetch your yardages and, most important, play a pro-level course under tournament conditions.
The best part of it all: You have a pro in your group — the pro in pro-am — who you get to watch up close all day long. The experience can be intimidating (try hitting your first tee ball in front of a major champ), but it’s also deeply informative. There’s no better learning exercise than playing with a pro for four-plus hours.
Playing in a pro-am is an experience that most golfers can only dream of, but luckily for me, I’ve had the opportunity to play in a couple of them — most recently at the Aramco Team Series – New York, where I pegged it next to LPGA and Ladies European Tour veteran Carlota Ciganda.
Here are 5 things I learned.
1. Walking > riding
Cart culture is widespread in the U.S., but does saving steps really help your game? According to Ciganda, it might make you play worse.
“I hate riding in carts,” she told me. “I can never get into any sort of rhythm. It completely takes me out of my game.”
I agree! The walk between shots allows you to establish flow during your round and keeps you mentally in tune with the course. And as an added bonus, you get to really experience the entire property. When given the choice, always opt to walk — pro’s orders!
2. Pros are just like us…
Ciganda told us early in the round that she hadn’t played much golf of late (she’d been relaxing back in her home country of Spain for a month), and that rust showed up quickly. Ferry Point has many strategically placed fairway bunkers, and Ciganda found quite a few of them. It was odd to see so many unforced errors from such an accomplished player, but sometimes, it’s just not your day — even for the best in the world.
3. …and nothing like us!
While Ciganda had some trouble off the tee, she never once threatened a big number. Every time she found a hazard or the rough, she didn’t try to do too much from the lie and then wedged onto the green. More often than not, she made the putt, too. While she didn’t have her A-game, Ciganda posted an individual score right around even par. Even on an off day, she showed why she’s a pro.
4. A humbling hole
Ciganda isn’t quite as long off the tee as, say, Maria Fassi or Anne Van Dam, but she’s no slouch in the distance department. She has averaged 270 off the tee in 2022, and she consistently pounded it past me all day — save for one hole.
On the 9th tee, after spotting a cameraman filming our group, I decided to swing as hard as I could. The decision paid off as I smoked a drive down the fairway, past all the trouble and onto the downslope. I was grinning as I strode down the fairway.
Once I reached my ball, I discovered I’d outdriven Carlota by a good 15 yards — and I wasn’t going to let the feat go to waste. As she approached her ball, I chirped back, “Looks like you need to hit the weight room!” She laughed at my bluster.
Carlota, of course, would get the last laugh, settling in over her ball and stuffing it to about 10 feet. My approach was not so fruitful. I dumped my ball into a runoff area short of the green and struggled to make bogey.
Lesson learned: Don’t smack-talk a pro. It won’t end well.
5. Solheim Cup memories
When I found out I was playing with Ciganda, I was stoked. I saw her play up close at the Solheim Cup last fall, and I’ve been a fan ever since. She has a certain edge to her that’s perfect for team competitions, and it’s hard not to respect that.
Late in the round, I asked her about her team competition experience.
“It’s the best week in golf,” she said. “Especially when we win.”
Luckily for her, she’s been on the winning side a few times. Of Ciganda’s five appearances, three have ended in victory — including an epic win at Inverness last year.
“I can’t wait for next year in Spain,” she said. “Playing in front of my friends and family is going to be special.”
It’ll be even more special if the Europeans can triumph again. If they do, Ciganda figures to be a big part of it.