It’s always nice coming back to Centro Nacional de Golf. I made my fifth start here as a professional back in 2009 and it has a lot of good memories for me. I had a top ten finish, which as a young pro really helped kick-start my career, and for the course to be so close to the city, I'm really looking forward to playing in front of my home crowd again.
I grew up in Cáceres, which is two hours southwest of Madrid and has a population of about 95,000. My Dad was a lawyer and my mother working in the local hospital, so I had a very nice upbringing for our family. There was just one golf course for us to play when I was younger, opening in 1993, which was perfect timing for me as it was around the time I could start playing. Now, I live in both Madrid and my hometown.
I grew up watching Seve Ballesteros and he was my hero. I was lucky enough to have a number of interactions with him as a young golfer growing up. I remember going to a European Tour event in 1994 with my father aged eight. It was my father and I following him for nine holes of his practice round. By the time he got to his 10th hole he came over to me and asked me if I played golf. Seve took me inside the ropes and onto the tee, handed me his seven iron and asked me to swing. I'm still embarrassed now of the big divot I took, but nonetheless it is an amazing memory to have with him. I still have a signed picture and handwritten note to me from him in my house and just last summer I was lucky enough to play with his son Javier. I really wish he was here to see us play this week but his legacy lives on.
Before I went to the college in the United States, I moved to Madrid and practiced a lot here at the Centro Nacional de Golf. I think it is great to have public facilities so close to the city centre, it helps a lot in making golf accessible to more people. The perception of golf in Spain can sometimes be that it is an elitist sport, which is why it important that we have the Open de España this week, free for the Spanish fans and on a course that they can also play, because this help change it.
I was a good player growing up, winning the national championships at under 12, under 14, and playing in the Spanish squads. I had some decent results and was asked if I would consider going to the United States to take up a golf scholarship. My parents and I didn't know too much about it, so it was actually a good guess in the end, and I learnt a lot at Indiana University studying sports marketing and management. It is a pretty cold place and I had never seen the snow before, so it was very different from what I was used to here in Spain!
I really developed my game there. I won a bunch of tournaments and by my junior year in college, I started believing I could be a professional golfer. Before that, I thought it was not possible. It was also there that I grew to love college basketball. Given the harsh winter, it was always a big event with an amazing atmosphere for the fans and the students, so it was something I grew to love in my time over there. I would go back and do it all again in a heartbeat.
Golf is a wonderful game. The year I came second in the NCAA Championships, I lost to Kevin Chappell in the final, and as luck would have it, we would be paired together on my World Golf Championship debut in Mexico last month. We spent the round reminiscing about our college days. That same week I played with Russell Henley, who I also faced during college which was a nice moment for me. Reflecting on that week, it was great for me to play alongside the best players in the world. The course was quite European, I felt comfortable out there and the fans were very good to me - to be honest, I was surprised so many knew my name. I played well and was happy with my 27th place finish on my debut. I left the week after playing alongside players like Justin Rose feeling motivated that I can compete with that calibre of player.
I have made a very good start to the year. In truth, I spent more of my winter practicing hard on my game, so it was great to see some good results early in the season. I travelled to Malaysia knowing I had played well there in the past. I was just unlucky that Shubankar Sharma had that incredible final round 62 but second place was evident of my hard work. The good form continued into Oman where I recorded my only over par round of the year. Now, my goal is to make it into The Open Championship by staying inside the Top 20 Race to Dubai Rankings.
I watched the final round of the Masters with my brother and friends. It is my favourite tournament to watch. I was hoping to see Rory complete the grand slam and we were also pulling for Jon. Patrick Reed is a great competitor and someone I faced during my college days. Back then I remember how fierce a competitor he was but in truth, he wasn't a standout. I guess that shows you how far you can go and all credit to him.