Organisers of professional golf events are always on the lookout for ways to market their tournaments. It is important to have something that sets an event apart from every other, but a curse isn’t exactly what you’d choose. The curse of the Puerto Rico Open is one of the first things that golf fans mention when discussing the tournament though. For a decade, no winner of the Puerto Rico Open won again on the PGA Tour and the curse is still spoken about even after Viktor Hovland and Tony Finau broke free of its shackles.
Of course, there is no curse. The main reason that Puerto Rico Open winners struggle to win again on the PGA Tour is that it is an alternate event played alongside the same time as the best golfers in the world compete at a World Golf Championship event. The standard of the field is weaker than a regular event but it has been a breeding ground for some excellent careers, offers a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour and takes place at a stunning venue so the Puerto Rico Open is very much a tournament to be savoured.
|2021||Grand Reserve Country Club||Branden Grace|
|2020||Grand Reserve Country Club||Viktor Hovland|
|2019||Grand Reserve Country Club||Martin Trainer|
2021: Branden Grace
Branden Grace knows as well as anybody how difficult the last year has been. The South African lost his father just a matter of weeks before competing in the Puerto Rico Open so was understandably emotional when securing the win at Grand Reserve Country Club.
“It was an emotional day,” Grace said after pipping Jhonattan Vegas to the victory by one shot. “I thought about him a hell of a lot out there, especially the last tee shot. I was really struggling the last hole because I knew he was watching over me.” To his immense credit, Grace didn’t look like he was struggling at the business end of the tournament. He followed up an eagle from a greenside bunker on the 17th with a birdie on the 18th hole to get the better of Vegas by just one shot.
It wasn’t just his emotions that he had to maintain control over on Sunday. Many players saw their chances literally blown away in the wind at Grand Reserve. Grace is one of the best wind players in the world though and, not for the first time, maintained tremendous control over his ball flight to separate himself from his competitors.
2020: Viktor Hovland
The curse of the Puerto Rico Open may not last for much longer. Some very talented players have failed to kick on having won this event but none of those winners quite had the same buzz about them as Viktor Hovland. The Norwegian was a star of collegiate golf in America and his win at the 2020 Puerto Rico Open saw him join Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and David Gossett as the only players since 1990 to win the US Amateur and a PGA Tour event before turning 23.
Hovland learned a lesson about how difficult it is to win on the PGA Tour at Grand Reserve Country Club. Josh Teater put up an almighty fight on Sunday and Hovland needed some magic to win. He chipped in for eagle on the par-five 15th hole but still required a birdie on the final hole to win. That birdie came courtesy of a putt from 30 feet on the final green.
The win means that Hovland is now the most successful Norwegian in PGA Tour history. That is only the start of his ambitions as a professional golfer and he now has a PGA Tour card for the next two years. “I was just thinking about trying to play as well as I could today and trying to get the job done,” Hovland said afterwards. “I hadn’t really thought about the perks yet, but I’m sure it’s going to be nice to get into some of the events that I wasn’t already qualified for.”
2019: Martin Trainer
While some high flying college graduates make a very fast start to life on the PGA Tour, winning soon after turning professional, others have to gradually work their way up the rankings. Martin Trainer is in the latter category. Despite being a highly talented amateur golfer, Trainer had to earn his stripes on the Web.com Tour before making it onto the PGA Tour. He earned two wins on that tour last season before proving to himself that he belongs on the biggest tour of them all with his first PGA Tour win at the 2019 Puerto Rico Open.
Winning one of these alternate events is a well-trodden path for up and coming players. Not all of them have been able to kick on to have success at even higher levels. Trainer knows that is the task that awaits him. Some of his first thoughts after seeing off the challenge of Aaron Baddeley, Daniel Berger, Roger Sloan and Johnson Wagner – all of whom finished in a tie for second place – were about the opportunities that the win has opened up.
“I never thought that I would be able to win on the PGA Tour,” said Trainer after making a quick celebratory call to his mum. “I’ll be able to pick up and choose where I want to go and have a little more flexibility with my schedule.” He had an unexpected hand in getting to that position as his regular caddie was absent for the week. In stepped PGA Tour Latinoamerica player Ryan Ellerbrock who knows the course very well and was a big help towards Trainer winning by three shots.
The 2018 tournament was cancelled.