Larrazabal eyeing Amateur Championship return
Fourteen years ago, at a windy Royal Porthcawl, Alejandro Larrazabal became the third Spanish winner of the Amateur Championship – the first two were Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia. He beat Swindon’s Martin Sell at the 36th hole, with a scampering, little brother, Pablo, on his bag.
Within a few weeks Larrazabal was playing in the Open Championship, the following year came the cherry on the cake, Augusta National.
Unlike his high-flying brother life in the professional game didn’t work out and he now has his amateur status back – and is keen to gather an invite back to the scene of his greatest triumph.
“I REMEMBER everything. It’s obviously good memories for me, plus I watch the DVDs a few times a year. The course is very challenging, I think in the medal play only one guy shot below 70 and I remember winning my matches in quite a bit over par.
I played a few years as a professional and I didn’t perform as good as I thought. I quit playing for a while and when I started playing again I figured I wanted to play amateur again. I would love to play in the Amateur again this year. I want to ask if there’s any chance if there is anything I can do. I will try to speak to someone at the R&A. It would be so nice being the last champion there to play again. The people were really nice to me, they made me an honorary member and that’s a big honour for me obviously. They sent me a letter and they said they had so much fun watching me play.
I haven’t been back since. My brother has and he sent me lots of pictures.
THE other qualifying course was Pyle & Kenfig and I shot 65, so it was a very kind course for me. It’s a great course, not as famous as Porthcawl maybe, but it’s very good. At the start of the week I thought I had no chance because I was studying in the States and I was not playing very well. It was the fourth time I played the Amateur and the other three times I missed the cut. I was just expecting that it would be really nice to play the matchplay. My brother made double bogey on the last hole and missed the matchplay by one. From there he caddied for me and was very helpful.
Pablo was very good as a caddy back in the day, I don’t know now! We were quite young and we got along very well. I was not hitting my driver very well and he always saw the ball and started running to the ball because in Porthcawl you have lots of gorse bushes. He was quite funny, he was really nervous. I think he was more nervous than me. He caddied for me at Muirfield and at the Masters and at the French Open, where I got invited to play.
I remember in the quarter-finals Zane Scotland chipped and three-putted to play off with me. The tournament was over for me but I was lucky he did that and I kept playing and won the play-off. I then beat Jamie Elson in the semi-finals. They were the top players, I think, back in the day. They were probably better players than me but head-to-head you have to get the breaks or play a little better than the other one and if you don’t, you go home. I think it’s tough to win that tournament.
THE best part of winning the Amateur is getting into the Open and the Masters, obviously. The Masters was really special, I got to play one practice round with Olly and Seve which now you can’t do, obviously. And the other practice round I played with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. I was like a child going to a circus, there was so many things going on around. I was not good enough to compete there, I knew that but I just had fun, what else can I do.
Playing the Masters was like a dream. Every Amateur that I played I was thinking, if I win I play the Masters. It is the highest prize you can get. You cannot think of anything else in golf. There are some guys out there where winning the Amateur is only one step forward but for me it is still the best thing that happened to me.
IN medal play you have to shoot as low as you can everyday because you play against 150 guys or so and in matchplay maybe 77 shots are good enough and maybe 68 shots you go home. You have to be really lucky to win those kind of golf tournaments. Or you are very very good, better than anyone – or you just have to be very lucky.
I remember very well the 7th, it is a really small par 3. It was like a pitching wedge and I couldn’t hit the green in any of the rounds. I remember very well number 18 obviously because I won the final there and I hit a brilliant 7-iron to the green. It is a very narrow fairway where you cannot hit the driver. At the 1st in the final I hit my driver through the green with all the adrenaline.
I have no idea if it could hold an Open but, as a competitive course, for sure I think Porthcawl is much better a course than some of the Open courses. I remember, for example, Royal St George’s is not as good a golf course as Porthcawl.