World Number Five Jon Rahm feels calm ahead of his Mutuactivos Open de España title defence, believing the burden of pressure is no longer there after winning his national Open at the first attempt last year.
“There won’t be more pressure than last year. It was the first time I had played the event; I was fourth in the world and I had just played well at Augusta. It was a golf course I played in High School. This time I don’t know the golf course. I am defending champion and the highest-ranked player, but the fact it’s a golf course I’ve not played much is a big difference. Hopefully I can just focus on playing good golf and be in the mix on Sunday.
“I wish I would have been able to enjoy last year’s win a little more. When I went down 18, I didn’t know Nacho Elvira had hit it in the water and made a double. I wished I’d have known that because that would have made a big difference with how I approached it. There was a chance of him holing out with his second shot – but I would have enjoyed it a little more. It was still a great week.
“Walking down to that green was a great feeling – 50,000 fans showed up to an event that was planned and advertised late. I was really proud of my country and proud of myself to be able to come and win. It’s a huge honour to represent Spain and Spanish golf. We all try and follow Seve’s steps and to win that event was unique and very special.”
The 24-year-old arrives at Club de Campo Villa de Madrid in strong form, having recorded seven top-ten finishes in his last ten events, including a runner-up result at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth just two weeks ago.
After securing his fourth European Tour title at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in July, his third Rolex Series victory, he now has his sights set on reaching the milestone of five victories faster than the late, great Seve Ballesteros.
“I hope I can get to five before Seve did. I would love to do that. Those records are always nice. That’s something I have in mind when I’m playing. There are some weeks when I really want to win – I’d love to be a multiple winner of the Open de España and I’d love this to be the first time I successfully defend a title. So, I hope that happens.”
Ballesteros won his fifth title at the 1978 Martini International in what was his 49th start, while Rahm is making his 39 th European Tour appearance this week.
Rahm is one of 32 Spanish golfers teeing it up on home soil this week, including Ryder Cup stalwarts Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jiménez and José María Olazábal.
He will begin the tournament in the company of three-time European Tour winner and 2016 Ryder Cup player Rafa Cabrera Bello and rising star Adri Arnaus, who is currently 34th on the Race to Dubai Rankings Presented by Rolex in his rookie season after graduating from the European Challenge Tour last year.
“Everyone is wishing all the Spanish players to have a great week, there’s a lot of people I know from growing up who I’m meeting here,” said Arnaus. “It’s one where every Spaniard wants to win the trophy, so it makes it that more special.
“You always get butterflies when you’re on the first tee, especially at the thought of playing with Jon and Rafa in front of all of those people who will be following us. But I’m used to that now; hopefully I can go out there and enjoy the experience. I see it as a privilege.”