Rafa Cabrera Bello: Rock N Roll Golf at the Stadium Course

As you may know, I’m splitting my schedule between the European Tour and the PGA Tour this season and I’m currently in the middle of the longest run of events I’ve ever played in the USA.

I’d still have to say that at the moment, the European Tour remains my favourite Tour because it’s my home Tour and I’ve played on it for many years, so I have many close friends there. I’ve made lots of new friends on the PGA Tour too but of course they’re not as good friends yet as those I have in Europe.

However, I do enjoy the USA a lot and what I’ve been really impressed with is how much they love the game of golf. Every venue we travel to, whether it’s on the east coast or the west coast, we play on incredible golf courses in front of a massive crowd week in, week out.

Different Experience Altogether

The most exciting experience of my current stretch in the USA was at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. I played there for the first time last year but I missed the cut. This time it was a different experience altogether.

The Stadium course is set up for spectators with many bleachers and grassy mounds for the fans to sit dotted all around the course which makes for a great atmosphere.

The event is unofficially known as the ‘fifth Major’ and it definitely has the feel of a grand slam event but I couldn’t have predicted the excitement of what happened to me over the final three holes of the last round. I was in a decent position and chasing down the leaders but to be honest I thought that there was a little too much left for me to do to win the tournament.

I hit a good drive at the 523-yard par-5 16th, around 337 yards to the right-hand side of the fairway to leave myself with 181 yards to the hole. I selected an 8 iron and struck it really well. It took a big kick off the slope at the front of the green, rolled on, hit the flagstick and dropped in the hole for the first albatross at the 16th in the history of the tournament. I couldn’t believe it. There were around 30,000 fans located around the 16th green and 17th tee and they went mad! I joined in, throwing my club into the air in celebration which landed in the lake beside me! I then instinctively ran down the fairway giving high fives to all the fans on the way to the green in a pure adrenaline rush. It was one of the most enjoyable moments in my career.

Difficult Position

After such emotion, it is easy to get ahead of oneself and now I was faced with course designer and golf masochist Pete Dye’s most famous, and one of golf’s most notorious, par 3s. On Sunday the pin was tucked in a difficult position on the back right hand side of the green bringing water into play if you attacked the pin. I had to try hard to calm myself down on the tee of the next hole, the famous 17th Island green. I concentrated on my breathing and on slowing everything down again and when I was ready, hit my tee shot. It was another good one and it found the centre of green, with around six feet left to the hole. I sunk my putt for birdie and the roars from the gallery started up again.

On the last hole, I thought that my luck had run out when I hooked my tee shot into the water. After taking a drop I played my approach to just off the edge of the green. I had a huge 40-foot putt left in order to make par but I struck it really nicely and it went in which sparked even more cheering from the crowd. I couldn’t help joining in again. It was the most incredible finish to a round I’ve ever had.

I didn’t win the tournament, but I finished fourth which I was very happy with considering the circumstances. It’s called the Stadium Course and now I know how a rock band or a soccer team playing in a cup final in a big stadium in front of such wild fans must feel.

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