The European Tour’s summer period where it visits various countries around the continent is one of the real highlights of the season. A number of the tournaments in that spell are national opens, flagship events often with long histories and lots of prestige. This is certainly the case with the Open de España.
The tournament was first held way back in 1912 and was one of the founding events of the European Tour. It has seen wins from some of the biggest names in the history of the sport such as US legend Arnold Palmer, the Australian great Peter Thomson, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer while most of the best Spanish golfers of all time have won this title. Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jon Rahm are among those who followed in the footsteps of the great Seve Ballesteros who completed a hat-trick of Open de España wins in 1995. Rahm won in 2018 and 2019 and given his affection for Seve he would no doubt love to match the feat of his nation’s golfing hero.
2022: Jon Rahm
Death, taxes and Jon Rahm winning the Open de España. There was a sense of inevitability, almost of certainty, that Rahm would win his home open for the third time. That tally of Open de España wins matches the late, great Seve Ballesteros, something that was not lost on Rahm. “It was the goal coming in,” he said afterwards. “Seve is a great hero of mine and to do something he took his whole career to do in just a few years is quite humbling, I’m not going to lie.”
Rahm also said afterwards that there was an extra layer of pressure for him to cope with as he tried to live up to the expectations of the home fans. We’ll have to take his word for that as he looked like a man in complete control of his game and his emotions during a final round of 62. That was, unsurprisingly, his best score of the week and it was enough to sap the energy and hope out of the chasing pack.
That Matthieu Pavon got closest to Rahm and was six shots behind tells a story of just how dominant the world number five was. It’s true that this is a long way from the strongest field that Rahm will face this year but after a so-so year by his standards, it was pleasing to see him back to his best.
2021: Rafa Cabrera-Bello
Much of the attention ahead of the 2021 Open de España was turned towards Jon Rahm. The world number one flew to Madrid looking to win the tournament for the third year in a row. In the end, tiredness and an inability to cope with the relatively slow speed of the greens cost Rahm his chance of completing the hat-trick. The home fans, however, were still treated to an excellent display of the strength of Spanish golf as Rafa Cabrera Bello outlasted Adri Arnaus in a playoff to win his home open for the first time.
This is a special tournament for any Spaniard to win but it was particularly important for Cabrera Bello who has been enduring rather than enjoying his golf lately. The former Ryder Cup player and multiple European Tour winner found himself outside of the world’s top 200 and without a top 10 finish in any tournament since January.
Cabrera Bello did not look like an out of form golfer during the first three days as he fired in rounds of 67, 65 and 64. The pressure of trying to see out a 54-hole lead weighed heavily on Cabrera Bello on Sunday though as he opened up his final round with a double bogey. To his credit, he got his round back on track for a 69 but could not avoid a playoff with Arnaus. The momentum from a strong finish helped Cabrera Bello close out the tournament quickly as he needed just one extra hole to win.
The 2020 tournament was cancelled.
2019: Jon Rahm
It was a case of different venue, same result for Jon Rahm at the 2019 Open de España. The Spaniard added another piece of history to his still young career by becoming the first player to successfully defend this title. As if this dominant performance from the world number five was not enough for the fans gathered at Club de Campo Villa de Madrid, Rahm was joined in the top three by compatriots Rafa Cabrera Bello and Samuel Del Val.
As good as Cabrera Bello and Del Val were, they, were only ever fighting for the places on Sunday. Rahm’s dominance over the first three days of the tournament meant the rest of the field needed a meltdown from the leader to have any chance of winning. Given the way he coped with the weight of expectation last year, that was never likely to happen and his round of 66 was better than all but four other players on Sunday.
It was no surprise to see Rahm keep his foot on the accelerator on Sunday. He showed his suitability to the course with an opening 66 before a steady, by his standards at least, round of 67 on Friday. Then came the Saturday fireworks when a 63 sent out the clearest possible message that he was here to win. That added up to a five shot victory which meant even more to Rahm as it came on the course where Ballesteros earned his final career win.
2018: Jon Rahm
The Open de España returned in 2018 after a one year absence and it was worth the wait for the home fans who saw Jon Rahm become the sixth Spaniard to win since the tournament became a European Tour event. Rahm was already a superstar with wins on both the European Tour and PGA Tour to his name before but coping with the pressure to win on home soil felt like another big step forwards in his career.
Speaking about the pressure that he felt, Rahm called his final round the “hardest Sunday” of his career. The majority of the fans gathered at Centro Nacional de Golf were following Rahm and they expected him to get the win. His eventual winning margin of two shots from Paul Dunne makes the win look easier than it was. Rahm knows how to focus on his golf but admitted he found it tough to ignore the crowd and just get on with the job at hand. “I saw the willingness and the feeling that everybody had to want me to win,” he said afterwards. “As a golfer, it’s hard to deal with the public’s emotions, so I tried to isolate myself, and that’s perhaps why I didn’t play my best golf.”
It says a lot about Rahm’s incredible ability that a -5 round of 67 didn’t rate anywhere near his best golf. Added to the previous rounds of 67, 68 and 66, his Sunday performance was enough for a win that delighted the Spanish fans. His winning score of –20 was the best total since 2003 and he was totally deserving of his success.
2016: Andrew Johnston
As first wins on the European Tour go, this was not a bad one for Andrew Johnston. The man known throughout the world of golf as Beef described the win as “surreal”, others described it as gritty, top class and very well deserved. Beef is a character that the fans love and whilst they no doubt would have preferred one of the home players to deliver the goods, his was a hugely popular victory.
Valderrama did not develop its reputation as an iconic golf course because it is easy to play. This historic venue has a real bite to it as the field found out over the four days of the Open de España. Johnston’s win was a rarity on the European Tour in that it came despite him finishing over par (+1 was enough for a win by one shot). There is no doubt that the extra battle and mental fortitude required to fight against both the competition and the course took its toll on Johnston, who said that he cried when he came off course.
Despite suggesting that it was “ridiculous” that his name has been added to the illustrious list of winners of the Open de España, Johnston was absolutely a worthy winner. He saw off the challenge of Valderrama expert Sergio Garcia and the in-form Dutchman Joost Luiten coming down the stretch. Some controlled golf from tee to green and confident putting on the lightning quick greens meant Johnston left the chasers requiring birdies that they could not fashion on the tough closing stretch.