The recent successes of Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, Sergio Garcia and Alvaro Quiros have inspired not only a five-man Spanish assault on this week’s WGC – Accenture Match Play Championship, but also a genuine hope that Spain can produce more Major Champions.
Miguel Angel Jiménez is the fifth member of the Spanish contingent at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Tucson, joining his four young compatriots who have, between them, won five of the last 15 European Tour events.
Garcia’s brilliant back-to-to back victories in Spain in October (Castelló Masters and Andaluciá Masters) were followed by Fernandez-Castaño’s play-off heroics at the Barclays Singapore Open. Quiros then finished the 2011 season with typical Spanish flair by taking home the Dubai World Championship presented by DP World.
Cabrera-Bello kept the Spanish momentum flowing into 2012 two weeks ago with his win at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, giving Spanish golf another huge boost of confidence as the Major Championships begin to loom on the horizon.
“I think it's quite impressive having five players within the top 65 in the world,” said Fernandez-Castaño, who will face Tiger Woods in the first round of the WGC - Accenture Match Play in Tucson.
“At the moment we also have five going to the Masters at Augusta, and there are also a lot of young players coming through that are doing well and have a bright future ahead.
“We have so many good players because of all the hard work that the Spanish Federation, along with Severiano Ballesteros, did for the sport in our country. Of course, the Federation is still doing that good work.
“For a small country, with only 300,000 golfers, to have five guys playing in the Match Play this week is quite impressive. Sometimes I think that people in Spain don't realize how good the Spanish golfers are.”
The next step for Spanish golf, according to Fernandez-Castaño, is for one of the current generation of now established world players to bring home a Major Championship.
Of course, no-one should ever rule Jiménez out of picking up a Grand Slam title in the next couple of years, but Fernandez-Castaño points to the likes of himself and his aforementioned countrymen Garcia, Quiros and the rest of Spain’s new generation of stars, as the men who should be competing for the game’s biggest prizes in the coming years.
Fernandez-Castaño believes that only a Major win will help golf in Spain return to the level of exposure and popularity that Seve inspired in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Ballesteros’s genius took the game to unprecedented levels in his homeland, and he remains the main inspiration for every Spaniard that has followed in his footsteps.
In order to inspire a new generation in a football-obsessed country that also boasts one of the greatest tennis players of all time (Rafael Nadal), a two-time Formula 1 World Champion (Fernando Alonso) and a basketball superstar (Pau Gasol), Fernandez-Castaño and the boys are going to have to bring home the biggest prizes.
“I think Spanish golf needs one Major,” said Fernandez-Castaño. “We haven't won a Major since Olazábal at the Masters in 1999. So I think it would be great for the Spanish golf, because one of the biggest problems the sport faces in Spain is exposure.
“You don't get to see golf in the news or in the newspaper that often. I think right now we are overshadowed by tennis, basketball and Formula 1.
“We have a lot of good sportsmen in Spain so I think a Major would be great to get youngsters to have their eyes on a new idol as I did with Severiano or with Jose Mariá. We need that and to do that we need one Major. Hopefully Sergio or Quiros, or maybe myself or one of the younger guys, can do that.”
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