Six Irish set for Spanish Open inquisition in Madrid

Ronan MacNamara
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Niall Kearney and his caddying dad, Joe (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

The acciona Open de Espana, one of the most prestigious events on the DP World Tour schedule, returns this week with as many as half a dozen Irish looking to follow in Peter Lawrie’s footsteps and strike gold in Madrid. 

Like the French Open, the glamour and enthusiasm around this event has slowly been diminishing but the commitment of Jon Rahm undoubtedly elevates this event while Tommy Fleetwood, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Min Woo Lee bolster what is a modest field, and that’s putting it lightly. Even the Hojgaard twins, Francesco Molinari and Robert MacIntyre have favoured a week off after being battered and bruised by some quintessential Scottish weather. 

Royal Dublin’s Niall Kearney is the highest ranked Irishman in the field at a lowly 171st in the Race to Dubai Rankings and he has a long way to go to make up ground on the top-117 which is the provisional cut off point for DP World Tour card retention. 

It has been difficult for Kearney who was desperately unlucky to miss out on full playing rights at the end of last season and he has failed to kick on from a promising mid-summer run in the UK Swing, and with limited starts, opportunity isn’t often knocking. 

Kearney tees off alongside Italian speedster Renato Paratore and China’s Bai Zhengkai in the group behind Jonathan Caldwell. 

Caldwell is ranked outside the top-200 in the Race to Dubai now following another missed cut at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. 

The Clandeboye man started that week well with a 68 but got blown away on day two with an 81 leaving himself with far too much to do to make the 54-hole cut.  The 38-year-old has been grouped with forgotten man Victor Dubuisson and Spaniard Alex Esmatges. 

Paul Dunne, Gavin Moynihan and David Carey are also in the field, but the story of the week undoubtedly will be about Jon Rahm who bids to emulate the late great Seve Ballesteros by winning his home open three times. It’s a feat that weighed heavily on the world number six last year, visibly frustrated and agitated but he returns to Club de Campo Villa de Madrid relishing the responsibility. 

“As a Spanish player it is my duty and if I can only come to one, then I will come to one, I will try what I can to play and to support my country,” said the 2018 and 2019 champion. 

“I am aware of the impact a player like me can have and I have seen it every time I come, so I take it upon me as a duty to be able to come and try to perform and give them four days of entertainment and something to look forward to. 

“The world has gone through a lot in the past two years and I know a lot of people are looking forward to this, so I am happy I can make it. 

“Luckily for me I have been able to put my name on that trophy a couple of times and with something that special, I would love to match Seve’s record of being the Spanish player to win it three times, so it would be a very important Sunday if I was able to do that. 

“I really want to get my name on the Open de España trophy for the third time because, among other things, when you call on the Spanish fans, they always turn up.” 

Defending champion Cabrera Bello is hoping he, alongside Rahm, can leave a legacy that the likes of Seve and Jose Maria Olazabal left behind them and inspire children to take up golf. 

“As a player, I like to think that we put our little grain of sand to help golf grow as a game, nationally and internationally,” he said. 

“The fact that we are lucky to have a player like Jon that has reached Number One in the world, that always has an immediate effect on people wanting to play golf and new kids wanting to join golf, and it is the same way a different generation inspired us. 

“I have said it a million times and I will never get tired of saying it: I saw Ollie win the 94 and 99 Masters, I have seen videos of Seve growing up when I was a little kid and those things made me dream about one day becoming a pro golfer. 

“So hopefully my win last year and Jon’s previous wins as well, and who knows if another Spaniard wins here this week, it will inspire other young kids to pick up the game.” 

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