01 Mar 2017

Pablo Larrazabal – For the love of the game

Life is good for Pablo Larrazabal. The 33-year-old is embarking on his tenth year as a European Tour professional and has finished in the top 60 on the Race to Dubai every year since 2011. It’s no wonder he’s always got a smile on his face as he plots the fairways and stalks the greens out on Tour. “I play golf because I love it,” smiles the four-time Tour winner as he talks to Worldwide Golf’s Todd Stazsko. “I just want to beat these guys every week. I don’t play for the money or to be rich, I play the game simply because I love it. That’s why I smile so much, because I am doing what I love for my job. Not too many people can say that.”

 

Rookie

Larrazabal was an unheralded rookie who surprised many on Tour back in 2008 when he won the Open de France, holding off the likes of Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood to win by four strokes. He came through a 36 hole qualifying tournament to take his place on the field and opened with a 65 before weekend rounds of 67-67 saw him ease to victory at Le Golf National – one of the most difficult courses on Tour. It is not lost on Larrazabal that the famed layout in Paris plays host to the next Ryder Cup in 2018 but he downplays his ambition of following his compatriots Rafa Cabrera Bello and Sergio Garcia in representing Team Europe.

“I always say that the future will take care of the future,” he says. “I can only control what I do. I try to shoot as low as I can – win some titles and make some top tens. That will take me wherever it will take me. If it is to the top 100 in the world, I will be happy, the same if it takes me into the top 50 or the top 10. And if I play in three or four Ryder Cups in my career then that means I will be playing in the best tournaments in the world against the best players.

“I am a fan of The Ryder Cup and big tournaments like The Masters so I watch them on TV. When The Ryder Cup is in Europe, I’ll be awake early at 7.0am to see the first tee shots, and I’ll watch the Majors in the Unites States until the very end – sometimes as late as 2.0-3.0am. I’m a golf lover! I’m a guy who will watch every shot of The Ryder Cup when it is on.

Rafa friendship 

“This last Ryder Cup was special because Europe had Rafa playing, and he and I are close because we grew up playing as part of the Spanish national team when we were young. We’ve been playing since we were 9-10 years old and it was our dream to play in the best tournaments in the world – and Rafa achieved it. So I am very happy for him and proud to be his friend.”

 

Larrazabal has made a fast start to this year’s Race to Dubai and last month was sitting in tenth place thanks largely to a runner-up finish at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January. He finished strongly with a 68 but it wasn’t quite enough as Tommy Fleetwood won by one stroke. Despite the near miss Larrazabal was happy with the state of his game during the Middle East Swing, admitting that the region brings out the best in him.

Abu Dhabi Golf Club 

“I like the course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club because I can see it out in front of me and it suits me,” he says. “I love Abu Dhabi as a city and I love how tough the course is and how fast the greens are. So it has quickly become one of my favourite events. I also love the weather and the fact that Dubai and Abu Dhabi are big cities. It’s good to go back to a city. I grew up in Barcelona and I love the city feel and city style of life. So to come to the Middle East Swing in January feels like how it is in Barcelona in June and July. It’s hot, great weather, good golf courses and good people, so I love it.”

 

Q-School

It took him a long time and plenty of hours of hard work but Larrazabal is now enjoying the fruits of his labours. “I turned pro at 21, in 2004, and I remember going to European Tour Q School and missing the first stage. I went to the Alps Tour Q School and missed out and also the Spanish Tour Q School, so I missed everything,” he says. “But I managed to get a few invites to play some events on the Spanish Tour the following year. I finished second in one tournament and that earned me my card for the year.

 

Challenge Tour

“In my second year as a pro I finished fourth on the Spanish Tour order of merit, and I received six or seven invites to the European Challenge Tour. I kept on improving and then earned my European Tour card at Q School in 2007. The rest, as they say, is history.”

 

What’s the secret? 

Indeed, Larrazabal won the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award in 2008 following his victory in France and has since gone on to win the BMW International (2011, 2015) and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship (2013) and has been a fixture at the DP World Tour Championship since 2011, never finishing lower than 51st on the Race to Dubai in that period.

“There are things that you must have to play on the European Tour – the first one is talent, if you don’t have talent you can work as hard as you can but you’ll never achieve what you want,” he says. However, if you have the talent then you must work hard on that talent, and you’ve got to love to work hard. Those are the keys. There are many players in the world with talent, but to work hard and to love to work hard is the toughest thing. The hardest period is often in your late teens.

To party or not to party?

“You will have friends going out having fun and it is then when you have to choose to try to become better, to wake up early every day and practice. Or you can go and party. That’s the decision you have to make.”

When you love the game as much as Larrazabal, every day feels like a party anyway.

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