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A happy hunting ground for the Spanish

Can anyone buck the trend of last three years at Dubai Desert Classic?

Image Credit: Asghar Khan/Gulf News
Emirates Golf Club from above
Gulf News

Dubai: Eight Spaniards from a field of 132 golfers will be hoping to continue their country’s dominance at this weekend’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic, where three of their compatriots have won since 2010.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, Alvaro Quiros and Rafael Cabrera-Bello have all added The Coffee Jug to their trophy cabinets in the past three consecutive seasons, following on from Spanish legends Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, who won here in 1992 and 1998, respectively.

Last season’s Ladies European Tour Order of Merit and Rookie of the Year winner Carlotta Ciganda also confirmed her titles at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters with a strong finish over this same course — Emirates Golf Club’s Majlis, in December — making this a happy hunting ground for the Spanish.

Defending champion and World No 56 Rafael Cabrera-Bello would become the first player in tournament history to secure a back-to-back, if he could win it again here this weekend. And while he’s not convinced Spain’s hold over the course is anything more than a coincidence, he does concede the conditions are favourable.

“I think it’s pretty much a coincidence,” said Cabrera-Bello, when asked about the Spanish hat-trick. “It’s very, very hard to win in any place, and it’s rare for three Spanish guys to win in a row.

“But I do have to admit that coming here to Dubai, I think all us Spanish players like it. Normally it’s good weather. It is similar to the conditions we have in Spain. We play in short sleeves. We play with the sun.”

He added: “It could be breezy, which is something that we are also used to. It’s a factor that makes us feel like we are at home, and in my case, I know if that happens — and I’m sure that to Alvaro and Miguel, it also happened that way — maybe that helps a bit in the end, but I still think it’s just pure coincidence.”

He also denied Spanish courses bore any resemblance to the UAE’s. “There’s not that many desert-style, desert-type courses in Spain. This is a great design and the golf courses in Spain are also great. The biggest factor could be the weather that makes us feel at home.”

World No 14 Sergio Garcia, who finished tied for second in Qatar last week, attributed youth development with the Spanish rise.

“I think we’ve been fortunate in the past 10 or 15 years to have a good amount of Spaniards on tour. That’s great to see,” said Garcia.

“We had a lot of good old timers like Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez. But there’s lots of younger guys coming up now. Sport in general is in a good shape in Spain, golf in particular.

“There’s no doubt the times aren’t helping, in terms of economy and getting more youngsters into the game. But we try to help in any way and it’s good to see the trend is still going.”

Of strong role models such as Ballesteros and Olazabal, who between them won all seven of the nation’s majors, Garcia said: “To have had role models of their calibre shows you as a Spaniard that it can be done. It’s not like we’ve not had anyone good enough and we’re fighting to be the first.”

Cabrera-Bello added: “The reason why I play golf is thanks to Olazabal, who I saw win both Masters in ’94 and ’99. That’s definitely what made me dream about being a pro.
“I also remember growing up watching videos of Seve. I didn’t get to see him play live in his prime, but I did watch plenty of videos. And the way he re-invented golf was obviously something that no Spanish and no European, or no one in the world will forget.”