Pardon me for being a little excited this week, but did anyone else notice? For the first time in 2018, the European Tour happens to be hosting a tournament in . . .
(wait for it)
EUROPE! In a time zone that isn’t abhorrent for those of us on the east coast of the United States! Let’s all take a moment to do a little happy dance.
Ok, I feel better. Vamos!
Open de España 2018
This week, we venture to the beautiful city of Madrid for the National Open of Spain. The Open de España returns to the European Tour schedule after a one-year hiatus in 2017. Although the field is somewhat depleted, with several Euro stalwarts either playing the RBC Heritage or taking a week off, the very fact that seven of the next nine tournaments are in Europe is reason enough for me to get pumped for the first of them. Not to mention, Spain is one of the most underrated golfing nations both historically and presently. This current crop of Spanish golfers is deep, stylish, and full of staying power. The people of Spain deserve to have their National Open be a celebration of native sons.
After round one, it’s no surprise that Jon Rahm is already in the mix. Rahm played very well at Augusta, finishing solo fourth at -11, but oddly never really seemed to be a factor late on Sunday. Nonetheless, Rahm has established time and again in his short career that he will compete for hardware virtually every time he tees it up, anywhere in the world. It seems fitting that this would translate to his native Spain, too.
Rahm finds himself in a massive log jam at -5 after a first round 67, along with 10 others. He’s only one stroke off the early six-under pace set by Paul Dunne (who is definitely becoming a menace in his own right) and Marc Warren on a very gettable golf course, and while it may be a tad early to start engraving the trophy, the rest of the field is definitely under an early Rahmthreat warning. Also, there’s this:
This is the 3rd time since the beginning of 2017 than @JonRahmpga opened with a score of -5 or better worldwide. He won the previous 2 instances (Irish Open, CareerBuilder).
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) April 12, 2018
Aside from Rahm, however, there are a number of other Spanish players bucking their heads out of the gates, but it’s not necessarily the names you might expect. The duo of Alvaro Quiros and Jorge Campillo (both sitting at -2) are off to a solid start. On the other hand, the Notorious R-C-B and fellow tour-visor aficionado Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño both appeared a little sluggish, with (+1) 73s, finding themselves tied for 114th with plenty of ground to make up on Friday just to see the weekend.
But without a doubt, the biggest round one surprise was 24 year old Spanish amateur, Victor Pastor. Pastor fired a first round 67 that included five birdies and an eagle, with only two blemishes. Candidly, I’m not very familiar with Señor Pastor. He is currently the 11th ranked amateur in Europe, but his results have definitely been a mixed-bag (even round-to-round within events). Among the highs: a fourth-place finish at the 2017 European Amateur at the venerable Walton Heath (rounds of 71-64-73-66), and a runner up finish at the Copa Andalucia 2018 in January (66-75-75-67). Among the lows: 80-76 at the 2018 Spanish Amateur in February, and a final round 80 to drift from solidly in contention to barely a top-25 at the Italian International Amateur in March. Hopefully, Pastor is able to keep the good vibes rolling from round one and avoid the blow-up score that has plagued him. It is always fun to see amateurs go deep in professional events, and although he’ll have his work cut out for him, it would be quite the storyline for Pastor to find himself in the mix on Sunday.
Beef’s Big Break
The 2016 Open de España saw Andrew “Beef” Johnston achieve his maiden European Tour victory–a 1-shot triumph over Uncle Joost, with a (+1) 285 total at the tough Valderrama Golf Club. Beef had been knocking on the door for quite some time, with a solid made-cut percentage and a few top-10s in the lead-up to his breakthrough win. After the final round, he gave this answer to the interviewer’s question of how he planned to celebrate:
Best winner's interview ever ?
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) April 11, 2018
Crack on, Beef. The interview got some viral traction online, and combined with his trademark beard, accent, affable personality, 8th place finish at The Open 2016 and lucrative (and obviously sensible) Arby’s endorsement deal that included a number of commercials (which were not horrible!), Beef became a household name for golf fans around the world.
Currently 30th in the Race to Dubai and 130th in the OWGR, Johnston could use some magic this week to get his 2018 campaign jump started. Johnston’s belated title defense is off to a good start, with an opening 68–two shots off the lead.
The host venue, Centro Nacional de Golf, is a public course set in the hills northwest of Madrid. The course also serves as the home of Real Federación de Española de Golf (the Royal Spanish Golf Federation, the sport’s governing body in Spain). Centro Nacional emphasizes public access to the game, with affordable rates for the everyday golfer and very discounted greens fees for junior golfers, along with a pitch-and-putt, golf school, and other amenities.
Given the turbulent economic times in Spain, it is refreshing and important to make the game accessible, so I’ll give the course itself–which is…um…kinda uninspiring?–a pass. At the very least, it could provide some excitement in the form of low scores, as the course only clocks in at just under 7,100 yards and plays much shorter than that. Given the first round numbers, the winner of the event is probably going to be in the -18 to -20 range, so maybe we’ll be treated to a crowded leaderboard and a shootout on Sunday.
Golf Channel will be showing live coverage from 6:00 am to 8:00 am, and 10:00 am to 1:00 pm on Friday, April 13. On Saturday and Sunday, Golf Channel will air the weekend coverage from 8:00 am to noon both days.
It’s never too early for sangria, right?