The European Tour’s proud past and exciting future comes together this week, as Spain’s new generation marks the 40th anniversary of the Tour’s first event, while at the same time remembering the legendary Seve Ballesteros at the Reale Seguros Open de España.
Next Monday marks the one year anniversary of the passing of Ballesteros, Spain’s most successful golfer and a three-time winner of this event, with the current crop of players who grew up idolising the five-time Major Champion keen to pay a fitting tribute to the man who changed the face of the game in Europe and beyond.
They will also be attempting to follow in the footsteps of another Spaniard, Ballesteros’ former Ryder Cup teammate Antonio Garrido, who won the Open de España in 1972 when it became the first official European Tour event, two years before Ballesteros made history by becoming the youngest professional to play in a European Tour event, aged 17 years and eight days. This is a record which still stands.
Garrido’s son Ignacio, himself a two-time European Tour champion and Ryder Cup player in 1997, is part of a strong Spanish contingent looking to continue his country’s golfing legacy at Real Club de Golf de Sevilla, where he is joined by a group of players that includes Ballesteros’ great friend and formidable Ryder Cup partner José María Olazábal.
It is 100 years since the first Reale Seguros Open de España, won by former Open Champion Arnaud Massy of France in 1912, and the last Spaniard to win the title, Alvaro Quiros, returns to the scene of his triumph looking to reclaim the trophy.
The big-hitting 29 year old was the winner when the tournament last visited Real Club de Golf de Sevilla in 2010, and he will be hoping to claim his seventh European Tour title following two victories in Dubai last year.
Another Spaniard targeting a sentimental victory this week is Miguel Angel Jiménez, who has won four of his 18 European Tour titles on home soil, but has yet to claim the Reale Seguros Open de España.
Jiménez will be among the favourites after finishing in a tie for fifth place in last week’s Ballantine’s Championship in South Korea. “I love the tournament and Sevilla is a very nice golf course, always in super condition,” said the 48 year old.
“The Spanish Open is very special to all of us Spanish players and I would love to have a victory in the tournament in my career. It’s a big week because of everything that is going on and of course we will all have our thoughts about Seve and how we miss him. But we will have to also try and keep our minds on the tournament and try to do our best to win.”
Rafael Cabrera-Bello is the only Spaniard to triumph on The European Tour so far this season, following Quiros on to the winners’ rostrum at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in February, and the 27 year old recognises the significance of the week.
“It is a special tournament for us with the first anniversary of the passing of Seve and with it being 100 years since the first Open de España,” he said. “Seve and José María Olazábal are the reason I play golf. They were my idols when I was young and they still are, so playing in a tournament they have played in is special.
“Any player would love to win his national championship and I would love to win the Open de España. Spanish golf is on a high at the moment with Sergio winning twice at the end of last year, Alvaro winning twice in Dubai last season and me winning there this year. Spain should be a really good place to play golf as we can play all year round and the future looks good.”
Defending his title this week is South African Thomas Aiken, who dedicated his maiden European Tour title at Real Club de Golf El Prat 12 months ago to Ballesteros, who died on May 7 2011, the Saturday of the tournament, following a brave and lengthy battle with a brain tumour.