Jon Rahm is hoping to further the golfing love affair between Spain and Ireland when he tees it up at this week's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation.
The Spaniard claimed his first European Tour victory at the event last season and has since gone on to win twice more, securing a second Rolex Series title at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai and winning on home soil at the Open de España.
That victory followed in the footsteps of Spanish golfing royalty, with the great Seve Ballesteros winning this event three times in four years between 1983-86, José María Olazábal claiming victory in 1990 and Sergio Garcia securing his first Tour win in 1990.
A rich and storied history has created a rapport that will be going strong this week, and Rahm admits he almost feels like an honorary Irishman at Ballyliffin Golf Club.
“It was, for many reasons, a very special win,” he said. “The most important one is because it was my first European Tour win.
“To be in the history of Spanish players related to that win - Sergio being his first European Tour win or professional win was that one, same as mine, Seve won it three times, Olazábal.
“It's a rich history of Spanish players winning. It's a great honour to join that list and hopefully keep coming back and become a multiple champion like Seve was. Hopefully I can keep that going.
“I don't know if it's Spanish players, or just me and my character that really connects with the Irish people, but it's amazing to be a champion and to be an Irish champion. To come back and the respect I've gotten, it's absolutely mind-blowing.
“If it's not better, it's equivalent to how well I get treated in Spain and that's hard to do because Spanish players are cherished.
“To come back and get the same recognition, it's absolutely amazing. Everywhere I go around here, a lot of people tell me they hope I defend my title again. I would probably expect everybody to think Rory or Graeme or Shane or somebody who is actually from Ireland to win but to get the same recognition is absolutely special.”
It's amazing to be a champion and to be an Irish champion. To come back and the respect I've gotten, it's absolutely mind-blowing - Jon Rahm
Ballyliffin is making its Irish Open debut as the Rolex Series begins a fortnight of links golf, with a trip to Scotland next week leading into the season's third Major at the Open Championship.
Rahm believes Le Golf National - where he finished in a tie for fifth at last week's HNA Open de France - was the perfect preparation for links play and he is looking forward to taking on a course that has blown him away with its beauty.
“It's absolutely stunning,” he said. “The views from the 14th tee and the seventh tee are probably some of the prettiest sights you'll get in golf. To me, it doesn't get anymore like golf than a pretty view on a links golf course, to be honest. It's really beautiful.
“It's a tough test and not the easiest golf course. Last year we had a very similar golf course where it was a little more wet and slower and windier and raining, and I had a good week and I could shoot some low scores.
“But out here with how firm it is, even if we get no wind, it's going to be tough to be shooting low. Hopefully we'll get some wind and the course will show how tough it can actually play.”
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