Rhys Davies returns to the Trophée Hassan II in Morocco this week to defend the title he won 12 months ago, a victory which capped a remarkable rise to the upper echelons of golf.
A year earlier the young Welshman had neither a European Tour nor Challenge Tour category, and was questioning whether his decision to pursue golf professionally instead of cricket – he represented Glamorgan and Wales as a teenager – was the right one.
Fast forward to 2010 and Davies had become a European Tour champion, having gained his card through the 2009 Challenge Tour Rankings, in which he finished fourth after victories in the SWALEC Wales Challenge, where he was a sponsor’s invite, and the Fred Olsen Challenge de España.
His two-shot win over Louis Oosthuizen at Royal Dar Es Salam Golf Club in Rabat was the catalyst for a wonderful debut season on The European Tour, as he finished 18th in The Race to Dubai and was part of the support team for Europe at The 2010 Ryder Cup, played in his native Wales.
Davies’ best performance so far this season is 23rd at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, but the fact he is returning to a tournament as a defending champion – albeit to a different venue – for the first time in his professional career will add extra motivation.
The 38th edition of the tournament, which has a rich, fascinating history, is being played at Golf du Palais Royal and Golf de L’Ocean in Agadir, and it continues to be supported by the Moroccan Royal Family.
The event was created by the late King Hassan II in 1971 and since his death in 1999, his equally enthusiastic sons, His Royal Highness King Mohammed VI and HRH Prince Moulay Rachid, have continued the tradition.
HRH King Hassan II’s aim was to bring the finest players to Morocco and promote his country as a premier golfing destination. The list of former champions includes no fewer than nine Major Champions, including Lee Trevino, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington, while Santiago Luna, who is in the field this week, is the only player to have won the tournament three times.
Spaniard Ignacio Garrido is another former winner playing in Agadir – he won in 1996 – and he is joined by fellow experienced campaigners Thomas Björn, who already has a European Tour title to his name this season, Simon Khan, Darren Clarke and David Howell.
However, it is the rising stars of the game in particular who will be taking inspiration from Davies’ victory last year.
Thorbjörn Olesen, Alvaro Velasco and Scott Jamieson have all made fine starts to the season following their graduation from the Challenge Tour last year, and will be looking to replicate the Welshman’s achievements.
The tournament retains its ‘Alliance’ (pro-am) format for the first two rounds, with one round played on the unique Golf du Palais Royal, designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior and considered by many to be one of the best in the world, and one on Golf de L’Ocean, a superb new course next door.
The final two rounds will be played on the 6844-yard par 72 Golf du Palais Royal, for which Simon Wakefield, who is in the field, shares the course record – an eight under par 64 in 1999.
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