Rafa Cabrera Bello is full of pride at returning home to Gran Canaria to play in and host the Gran Canaria Lopesan Open at Meloneras Golf by Lopesan.
The Ryder Cup star and four-time European Tour winner was born in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and despite going on to ply his trade all over the world, he remains passionate about developing golf across the Canary Islands.
After taking up the game at the age of six, the 36 year old went on to win the Spanish National Championship every year from under-7 to under-18 level. He then had a memorable European Tour debut as a 17 year old amateur, finishing tied fourth as his future Ryder Cup partner Sergio Garcia won the 2002 Canarias Open de España – the last time a European Tour event was staged in Gran Canaria.
In 2019 the 36 year old established the Circuito Juvenil Rafa Cabrera Bello, an annual series of tournaments for children and young golfers around the idyllic Canary Islands. The circuit will celebrate its third test this Saturday in Gran Canaria, as its founder aims to seal a first European Tour victory on home soil.
“It’s a really, really cool experience,” said Rafa. “As a kid you don’t really grow up dreaming about being a tournament host, but once you see the other guys who have had the opportunity and that huge honour, I thought it’d be cool to be host one day. We’ve come back to Gran Canaria, and I’m loving it this week. It’s a very nice feeling because you look back on your career and you think ‘maybe I’ve done one or two things right’. I have the opportunity and the honour to be host this week. It’s a huge pleasure.
“We have six Junior Circuit events throughout the year. We started three years ago, last year was a bit of a hiccup because it was a difficult year. Our goal is to become a nice junior ranking in all the Canary Islands. Golf has given me a lot, if I have a chance to give a little bit back to kids and try to get them to love the game as much as I do, and learn from the values of sports, in particularly the values that golf teaches all of us, that would be the only reward I need. It’s really cool when you see a smile on a kid, you don’t need anything else.
“Meloneras Golf is a beautiful course, the views you’ll see throughout the week are breath-taking. You can expect good scores – lots of birdies. The biggest trick about the course is if the wind does pick up. They can be very windy islands, and that’s the defence of the course. The back nine does have some daunting shots, both to the green and off the tee. You can also see one or two players get nervous and struggle a bit.”
Ireland’s well represent with a quarter of hopefuls in Gran Canaria looking to make the most of the sunshine. Paul Dunne will hope to build on the momentum of last week’s tie for 33rd in Austria. Cormac Sharvin, who finished one shot better than Dunne to claim a top-30 also takes his chance, with Jonathan Caldwell out to rediscover his best form after a missed cut at Diamond Country Club while Niall Kearney makes his first appearance on Tour this season.
Meanwhile last week’s Austrian Golf Open winner John Catlin is aiming to draw on his experience of Spanish success in a bid to secure the Race to Dubai title. The American now has ten professional victories worldwide, including three on the European Tour, with the first of those coming after a battle with Major winner Martin Kaye just eight months ago at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucia Masters.
“Absolutely I think about winning the Race to Dubai,” said Catlin. “That’s a big goal. If you do that you’re pretty much guaranteed the top 50 in the world, so those two pretty much go hand in hand. To be the Race to Dubai Champion… I don’t think an American has ever done it, so that would be a very, very cool accomplishment.
“Gran Canaria is a beautiful place. As soon as I got off the plane I thought “This weather feels lovely”. Beautiful place, great food. I love coming to Spain, a lot of good memories.
“I don’t think I would have gotten that first win in Valderrama if I didn’t have those previous wins to give me confidence. Going up against Martin Kaymer, Major winner, former world number one, but I knew I had won before so I knew I could do it again. It gave me the confidence to say “I’ve proven to myself that I have won seven times before that, so I can do it again.”
Irish tee-times, Thursday:
- 9.00am – Jonathan Caldwell
- 9.50am – Niall Kearney
- 2.40pm – Paul Dunne
- 2.40pm – Cormac Sharvin (from 10th)
- Live scoring HERE