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Alejandro Del Rey's road to U.S Open debut: From Walton Heath to practising with Jon Rahm

Alejandro Del Rey's road to U.S Open debut: From Walton Heath to practising with Jon Rahm

12 months ago, while Jon Rahm was competing for the U.S. Open title at The Country Club, Brookline, Alejandro Del Rey was having an off week following three top tens on the Challenge Tour.

On Wednesday, they played a practice round together at The Los Angeles Country Club ahead of Del Rey’s Major Championship debut, and it was a reminder of just how starkly different their routes to this championship have been.

They may share the same coach, attended the same college, and are both from Spain – but while Rahm enters this week as World Number Two and a past champion of this event, Del Rey is only three years into his professional career and made it here through some of the toughest examinations in the game.

Last year, Del Rey had already earned his first victory on the Challenge Tour in Germany at the start of the 2022 season, and had memorably made history with a 14-under-par 58 at the Swiss Challenge in 2021 – a year after turning professional. That day, Alejandro became the fifth player in the history of the men’s game to record a 58, but the first on a par 72.

But despite some early success, he was still in search of his first Major start, and promotion to the DP World Tour.

Heartbreak at the end of last season for the Spaniard put a teary, emotional halt to the progression he’d been hoping for at the end of the year – finishing two places outside of securing a DP World Tour card via the Road to Mallorca Rankings.

"It was probably one of the toughest days of my professional career,” Del Rey recalled of his 22nd place finish in the rankings.

“An entire season working for a spot in the Top 20 and to watch it slip away on one day was hard."

His finish did earn him a place in the Final Stage of DP World Tour Qualifying School, but the gruelling six-round contest was by no means a guarantee. In a field of 156, many of whom have already had to come through First and Second stages, Del Rey battled for one of 25 (and ties) available cards.

With rounds of 69, 68, 68, 68, 68 in the first five rounds, Del Rey was in with a chance. But it was his proven ability to go low that helped him secure fifth place, carding a best-of-the-day eight-under 63 to finish the week on 24-under-par behind Simon Forsstrom, David Ravetto, Daniel Brown and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

It was a moment of jubilation that was defining for Del Rey, and one that ultimately prepared him for the one-day test of U.S. Open Qualifying at Walton Heath last month.

Competing on the DP World Tour this year has only added to his confidence, with a best of tied third at the Singapore Classic in a season where he has missed just one out of ten cuts.

He arrived at Walton Heath in search of his first Major start, and opened with a four-under 68 that had him in a tie for 10th at the end of round one. With seven places up for grabs in the 36-hole contest, Del Rey once again faced a final round mental test that would see him either experience the high of Q-School or the low of Challenge Tour finals.

With experience at his back, it would prove to be the latter. Del Rey added a second round of 68 to finish his day on eight-under par, and secure his place in the U.S. Open – once again in fifth, tied with Jens Dantorp and Mathieu Pavon.

“It's a funny sport,” the 25-year-old reflected.

“If I don't make it out of Qualifying School, I would be stuck on the Challenge Tour and maybe I don't make it out here, playing in the big tournaments in Europe with lots of fans watching.

“Now, I am teeing it up at a US Open. It's been awesome."

The reward for Del Rey, who hails from Madrid, is not only a spot in this week’s field but a new connection with Rahm that has been aided by his coach, Dave Phillips.

“It's very special.

"There's a connection there being Spanish, we both went to ASU in college, and we actually share the same coach in Dave Phillips. It was a perfect situation where Dave can also watch me and Jon."

"Jon is very impressive to watch. He owns his own game and he is very confident in doing his own thing.”

Del Rey, who is the second-longest hitter on the DP World Tour with an average of 332 yards this season, comes in with confidence and is hopeful that the wider-than-normal fairways at this year’s U.S. Open will be a help to him in his Major debut.

"I've been playing really good, gaining confidence week-to-week and I feel like my game is in a really good place. I think I have a really good finish just around the corner.

"I think it's a good golf course for me. The fairways are fairly wide which is nice for me. I've been playing good and like the course so it's great to be here.”

Alejandro del rey

As for compatriot and tournament favourite Rahm, a four-time winner this season that includes his second Major title at the Masters, his hope for Del Rey is that this week is both a learning experience and a kick-start to bigger things.

“It's a big accomplishment to qualify,” Rahm said of Del Rey’s route to this week’s Major.

“It's a big deal. It's not easy, but now you've given yourself the opportunity. He's been playing really good golf in Europe, and this could be a kick start to his career here in the U.S.

“If you can come out here and play golf the way I know he can play, he can give himself a massive opportunity to put himself out there to the world and learn as a player.

“Play good or bad, it will be a learning experience. It's really hard to get ready for a U.S. Open without having played one before.

“But he has given himself an opportunity that I hope he can take advantage of because doing well in a major can take you a long ways.”

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