When Azahara Munoz finished second to Brooke Henderson on Saturday at the Lotte Championship in Honolulu, it was her best LPGA finish since 2014. From afar, it appeared as if the 30-year-old Spaniard, a former NCAA champion and LPGA rookie of the year, had simply found her swing again, figuring something out in the offseason (she hasn't missed a cut in six previous starts in 2018) that explains everything. In truth, her story was much more grim.
“I haven’t said anything, but I been going through quite a few health issues,” Munoz revealed after her final round at Ko Olina Golf Club in Honolulu on Saturday.
Munoz’s medical issues began when she had hand surgery in 2015. But then, a different problem surfaced.
“I was just feeling like I have no energy, but I thought that was me. I've always been low on energy,” Munoz said. “I was getting a lot of anxiety, and I started losing a lot of hair, and that’s when I thought something was really wrong with me.”
Eventually, Munoz learned she had a thyroid problem.
It was a difficult blow for the competitor who won the 2008 NCAA individual title as a junior in college at Arizona State and who helped the Sun Devils win the NCAA team title in 2009. She turned pro after graduating that spring, made it to the LPGA via Q School and played her first season on tour in 2010, when she won the rookie-of-the-year points race. She also won four times during her career on the Ladies European Tour.
While grateful to have identified what was going on, getting has required more time. “It’s taken quite a long time to get the medication up. I had to take quite a lot, and they had to increase it slowly,” Munoz said. “I’m feeling better. I have a lot of energy. Before I was just so rundown I could barely do anything. I think finally I’m feeling how I used to feel, and I’m really excited about that.”
Munoz’s recent play reflects this. She shot the lowest round of anyone in the field in Hawaii during the final round. While losing to Henderson by four strokes, she finished one shot better than some the the LPGA Tour’s best in Shanshan Feng, Inbee Park and Ariya Jutanugarn. Feng is the current World No. 1, while both Park and Jutanugarn are former World No. 1s.
Munoz’s driving average for the week was 270 yards, a full 20 yards further than her 2017 driving average. She missed just one fairway in each of the final two rounds of the tournament.
The goal, of course, would be to return to her former self. Munoz won once on the LPGA Tour in 2012 and had eight other top-10 finishes that season. She finished 2014 ranked 14th in the world, but then her game started trending in the wrong direction. Her world ranking fell to 29th in 2015, 48th in 2016, and then she finished the 2017 season ranked No. 72 in the world.
“I’m healthy. I have my energy back, so I was quite excited about this year,” Munoz said. “I’m playing really well, so I’m excited to see what I can do.”