In this week’s Player Blog, Rafa Cabrera Bello talks about growing up in Gran Canaria, starting his junior golf circuit, and his role as tournament host this week.
Hosting on the island where I was born and grew up playing is an honour. I’ve always wanted the Tour to come back here, and I know it’s difficult but I’m really glad this year we could make it happen. I want to thank the European Tour and everyone who has been involved in the Canaries because I know how hard they have worked. I really appreciate the commitment and investment that has been done to bring the tournament here, and I’m also very thankful the public authorities and private sector, because they have all really committed to hosting the tournament.
When I was growing up, the southern part of Gran Canaria didn’t exist as it does now. Tourism was only really developing then so we lived in a really quiet neighbourhood with one golf course nearby, and that’s where all the kids would go. It was a really quiet area. My school was 50 kilometres away from here so it would take me an hour back and forth to go to school back then, and then in the afternoons I had my sister and brother and we would go right next door to Maspalomas golf and practice every afternoon. It’s just great to have seen the island’s development and to be here now, because it’s such a great place to be. The people are very friendly, we are all a little laid back, and the weather is obviously amazing. It’s funny because when we play in other places people say ‘Oh the weather is amazing’, and I always say, ‘eh, I know a place that’s a bit better’.
This course we’re playing this week wasn’t even built when I was a kid, but I have been here a lot to practice during my professional career. Lopesan were my first ever sponsors so I’m always very grateful to them, and they are good family friends also.
It’s a golf course that has been built for tourism with generous fairways and more friendly bunkers, but they have been firming up the greens, and the wind is one thing that no one can control. I think if the wind doesn’t come up like it could the scores will be very low, which the course is designed for, and if the wind does pick up its going to be a tougher test. It’s a great course. I love the back nine, because there are a few holes beside the cliff and there are some daunting tee shots and approaches.
I remember being very inspired when I was a young boy watching my heroes play golf on the European Tour in Gran Canaria. My brother and sister and I marshalled at the two European Tour events in Gran Canaria in the mid-90s with Turespaña, and it was just a dream come true to see my heroes and watch them hit all kinds of shots on the courses that I had played. There’s a great picture of the three of us with Seve. I was little then, but I remember watching Seve Ballesteros playing and losing to Jarmo Sandelin in ’95 and watching Ole win in ’97. It was special.
I’m never going to be able to fill the shoes of my heroes and nor is it my intention. But I do hope that one day there could be someone from Gran Canaria who I have inspired, or who came through the junior circuit I helped develop. It’s something I’m very proud of. Golf has given me a lot, and I have always felt huge support from everyone here in Gran Canaria since my teenage years, so I am very proud to be able to have the opportunity to give something back and see the community grow.
That’s why, together with Real Club de Golf de Las Palmas, we decided to start the junior circuit, and now we’re going into our third year. We started in Gran Canaria two years ago and now this year we have grown to another two islands. We’re trying to help grow the game within the youngsters. The values of the sport are fantastic, and if we can help pass on those values to young generations together with the love of the game, that by itself is worth it.
A young Rafa on meeting Seve: “My brother and sister and I marshalled at the two European Tour events in Gran Canaria in the mid-90s, and it was just a dream come true to see my heroes and watch them hit all kinds of shots on the courses that I had played”— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) April 21, 2021
📸 via @MCabreraBello pic.twitter.com/uABkel8Uun
It’s special to come back here to Gran Canaria as a professional, because my first ever European Tour was as an amateur on the island during my last year of school, and I finished fourth. I was 17, and at the time it was the best experience I had ever had. We played at El Cortijo Club de Campo, which was a course that I used to go and practice at. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I knew the course well and I was motivated because it was the first time I was going to play at the highest level in European golf. My dad was caddying for me that week, and I don’t know what happened, but I was doing great, and I really felt the love of the crowd. There was a moment on the last day around 15 or 16 that I thought ‘Oh maybe something happens and I could win’, but Sergio was just too good.
Being from Gran Canaria definitely gives me extra motivation to be here. Everyone wants to play good at home, and I always want to play well whenever I play in Spain, but here it’s not just Spain - this is like my front door. I’m going to miss the crowd because no matter where I look I would have seen a friendly face so I’ll miss that experience, but hopefully I can have it if we continue more years here and have a successful Canary Islands swing. But I’m sure even though there are no big crowds I’m sure I’m going to feel the love and support from everyone here, and I’ve been practicing pretty hard getting ready as best as I can and I’m going to give it my best shot. Everyone wants me to do good, and I want to do good, but I just need to turn that pressure into positive energy.
It’s great to be here with my brother on the bag too. We are very close in age, we are great friends, and he’s now been on the bag for quite a few events. Because of the COVID situation his work was shut down and my previous caddie Colin and I decided to split at the end of the year, I told my brother hey listen your work is shut down, I don’t have a caddie, do you want to come with me? He’s a professional golfer himself so he said yes and here we are. We’ve had some good weeks and some not so good weeks, not because of him, because of my game, but he’s doing a great job.
I am hopeful that my game is coming around, and I’m very motivated by the thought of playing in the Ryder Cup. I know last year I didn’t play my best, but it was a weird year, so I’m just going to trust that I’m doing the stuff that has worked for me for years and I’m sure I can turn it around. This year I started beautifully in Abu Dhabi and played okay in the rest of the Desert Swing, and then in the U.S. I just didn’t play as well as I would have hoped for. But the last tournament I played was in San Antonio. I had three great days and one bad, so I’m hoping those good feelings are coming back. I’ve now been here for a couple of weeks, and I always draw good energy from being home with friends and family and enjoying the weather, so I’m hopeful about where I’m at.