Rafa Cabrera-Bello is relishing the prospect of representing his native Spain for the first time as a professional when he makes his debut in the ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf next week.
Spain have lifted the World Cup of Golf on four previous occasions, including back-to-back successes in 1976 and 1977, when the late, great Seve Ballesteros partnered first Manuel Piñero and then Antonio Garrido to glory.
But in recent times the Spaniards have been the ‘nearly men’, with Miguel Ángel Jiménez and Pablo Larrazábal finishing runners-up behind the triumphant Swedish duo of Karlsson and Stenson in 2008, four years after Jiménez and Sergio Garcia had narrowly missed out on home soil to the English pair of Paul Casey and Luke Donald.
Jiménez has made 13 previous appearances in the ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf, and Cabrera-Bello is aiming to lean on the elder statesman’s experience when he makes his bow in the US$ 8million event at Royal Melbourne Golf Club next Thursday.
He said: “It’s the first time I will have represented my country in a professional team event, so I’m definitely looking forward to it. I’m playing with Miguel, my good friend who I admire. He has played this event many times and has been successful in the past, so I’m excited to be playing with him.
“Spain have come very close to winning in recent years, so hopefully we can go one better this time. Even though it is mainly a stroke play event, I’m sure we will be encouraging each other and looking out for each other’s scores during the week.”
Melbourne will always have a special place in Cabrera-Bello’s heart, as the first tournament he played during his rookie season on The European Tour in 2006 was the MasterCard Masters at Huntingdale Golf Club – an event won by Justin Rose.
Cabrera-Bello finished inside the top 25 and the Spaniard has not looked back since, winning two European Tour titles including the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in 2012.
The 29 year old has not been back to Melbourne since his maiden visit, but is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with the city.
He said: “I’m very excited about going back to Melbourne. I know the quality of the golf courses there are very good, with firm fairways and fast greens. And coming from Gran Canaria I always prefer to play with the sun on my face, so I’m sure the weather will suit me. It’s just a very nice tournament to play at the end of the year, so hopefully I can finish the season off well.”
The make-up of the 60-man field was based on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), with up to two players per country allowed to qualify (or four per country if they were within the top 15 of the OWGR).
The format will return to 72 holes of stroke play, with individual players competing for US$7 million of the US$8 million prize fund.
The top two-ranked players from each country will compete for the team event, using combined stroke play scores.
First played in 1953, the ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf is one of the oldest and most prestigious team events, inviting two-man teams from 28 nations to represent their countries. The list of former champions reads like a who’s who of golf, with great names such as Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Sir Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Colin Montgomerie all having lifted the trophy.
Tickets for the tournament are on sale now from here