The Open de España has over 100 years of history in its wake, making it the third oldest tournament in Europe, only behind the French Open and the Open Championship, the only major played on the Old Continent.
But the history of the Open de España is closely tied to the modern era of golf, and when the European Tour was conceived in around 1971, golf on the continent would change forever. Since then, enough time has passed for this tournament to witness a little of everything, from the birth of new stars like Sergio Garcia (his first professional tournament was the 1999 Open de España) to wins for players such as Arnold Palmer, ‘the King of Golf’, as well as the final victory of the great Severiano Ballesteros or the Open de España with the biggest crows, where Jon Rahm was victorious in 2018.
Let’s take a look back at some of these moments. Our first stop is in 1984, where we can enjoy a historic feat; Bernhard Langer’s spectacular course record at the Parador de El Saler to eventually beat Englishman Howard Clark by two shots. 62 shots were all he needed to complete his final round and a stunning Sunday comeback. El Saler was designed by Javier Arana, as was the venue for the 2021 Acciona Open de España, will we see another course record this year?
Valencian course El Saler was also witness to a historic playoff in 2013 between Chilean player Felipe Aguilar, the German Max Kieffer and Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin, with the latter taking the spoils after nine extra holes. Together with that of the 1989 Dutch Open, it was the longest playoff in the history of the European Tour.
The 70s changed the history of this tournament forever when it became a regular European Tour event. The change lent the event a new dimension, the biggest stars started to arrive, and the new winners’ circle was opened by Antonio Garrido. The man from Madrid won his only Open de España at Golf de Pals (Girona) in a playoff against fellow Spaniard Valentín Barrios.
Another gem from the annals of the event is the 1975 edition, where we find one of the most illustrious winners of our national open, Arnold Palmer. The man many credit with modernising golf visited Spain, specifically the imposing course at La Manga (Murcia), where he cruised to victory. He was the only player under par at the tournament (-5), five shots ahead of second-place player, John Fourie, and seven ahead of the abovementioned Valentín Barrios.
We couldn’t write this article and not include a particular highlight from the 90s. In 1995, at the Club de Campo Villa de Madrid, the host venue for this year’s event, Spanish golf witnessed one of its most memorable feats. Seve Ballesteros claimed his final victory as a professional, and he did so in front of the biggest crowds that had ever been seen on Spanish soil. The man from Pedreña had introduced many Spaniards to golf, and that week, on the home straight of his career, he left them with his final masterpiece, winning his third Open de España, a number nobody else has reached in the modern era. He beat Ignacio Garrido to the title by two shots after a thrilling battle.
No sooner had Seve’s era in Spanish golf come to an end, than that of Sergio Garcia began. Before winning the Open de España in 2002, he played the event in 1996, 1997 and 1998 as an amateur. It wasn’t until 1999 that the kid from Castellon made his professional debut in the competition, which took place at Catalonian course El Prat, where he would finish 25th.
It was at El Prat where news broke of one of the saddest memories for the world of golf. Severiano Ballesteros passed away during the 2011 edition of the tournament after a long battle with cancer. The week, during which the tournament itself was the last thing on anyone’s mind, provided a constant emotional reminder of the legend from Cantabria and nobody could process what had just happened. The man who changed the history of this sport had passed away during the week of the Open de España.
If one player is continuing the legacy of Ballesteros it is Jon Rahm, who frequently names the Spanish genius as his idol, and talks of how important it is to him to achieve success for Spanish golf in order to try and replicate Seve’s legacy. Winner of the last two editions of the tournament, Jon will be looking to equal Ballesteros as the man with the most victories at their national open in the modern era, and it all started in 2018, when he enthralled 50,000 home fans with his victory at the Centro Nacional.
Before the tournament became part of the European Tour, in 1972, the Open de España trophy was won by several important players. Ángel De La Torre was a five-time winner of the event (1916, 1917, 1919, 1923 and 1925), while Mariano Provencio claimed the title four times and Marcelino Morcillo and Gabriel González have three wins each under their belts.
Also worthy of a mention are the tournament’s two amateur winners, Brazilian player Mario González in 1947, and Conde de Lamaze, a French player who won in 1955.