PORTLAND, Ore. - Usually, Carlota Ciganda – one of the few players on the LPGA Tour who still lives internationally – would be looking forward to returning home after a three-week trip to America. However, this time, she’s already dreading her next flight home. More specifically, she’s dreading the next trip to the range she’s hit on for each of the 20 years she’s known what it feels like to smack a white ball into a field of green. It’s there that the shock and sadness are sure to catch up to her.
That range has him, Rogelio Echeverria, all over it – her “second dad” as he’s been since first introducing her 20 years ago to the game she calls a profession now. On that range he sat a little over a month ago watching his star pupil hit balls as he’d done since she was five.
She left after that visit for a tournament like she’d done so many times before. The week that followed Echeverria experienced a pain in his stomach like he never had before. His friends took him to the hospital. The diagnosis was too grim to process – a cancerous tumor in his stomach. Doctors were able to remove it, but an infection infiltrated his stomach. Before anyone had time to process his diagnosis, he was gone. 73 years young and gone before Ciganda could get back to tell him thank you and good bye in person.
“I mean – I can’t speak,” said Ciganda, her voice breaking up. “He’s the one that taught me everything. Like I mean I’m here because of him. And he means everything to me. I love him, and it’s hard. It’s hard to be without him, and I’m just going to play for him.”
Man, he would have been beaming with pride with what he saw on the golf course Friday. Whether she received the helping hand of her new guardian angel or not, Friday was simply Echeverria’s star pupil’s finest work on the LPGA Tour – an eight birdie, one bogey 7-under 65 that vaulted her into in a tie for second at 9-under-par at the Portland Classic Presented by Cambia Health Solutions.
Since finding out of his death at the start of the Wegmans LPGA Championship, the game’s returned to what it was for her when he first taught her, before the game he introduced her to provided her the life she could have only imagined.
“Playing now is just for fun. I mean I’m just playing because I want to play, and I just want to play for him. I would love to win for him,” said Ciganda.
He would have loved to see her win on the LPGA Tour. He saw her win three times on the Ladies European Tour and saw her win the European Ladies Amateur twice in 2004 and 2008 but never on the LPGA Tour. He was here in the States in Texas three months ago at the North Texas Shootout Presented by JTBC to watch her play. She missed the cut but left with a memory that will live on forever.
Now, three months later, his sudden death has left her with a perspective on the golf course – and in life - that only loss can offer.
“I’m just very relaxed and I just try to have fun. If I want to play, I play. If I want to rest, I rest,” said Ciganda. “I think there are higher things in life, so I just want to do whatever I feel in the moment.”
It’s probably not a coincidence that since that range session before his death that Ciganda feels like she’s potentially playing the best golf of her career. She won the International Crown with her teammates from Spain, playing arguably the best golf of anyone in the field, and she produced her best finish in a major yet with a tie for 13th at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. Now, this, a career low and a chance on the weekend to win one for Rogelio.
“It would be a dream. I just feel like I’m stronger now, and I feel like I can really do it. Before it’s not that I felt like I couldn’t, but I mean maybe I didn’t have a lot of confidence,” she said. “But now I’m feeling good. I’m feeling comfortable. I know it’s not easy because there are so many good players, but I’m playing good and I would love to win for him.”