By Alistair Tait
Get ready for the Larrazabal brothers, coming soon to a major championship near you. Alejandro is the one hitting the shots. Pablo is the one sprinting up the fairway with Alejandro’s golf bag.
Alejandro Larrazabal, a 22-year-old from Barcelona who played college golf in the United States, became the third Spaniard to win the British Amateur Championship, defeating England’s Martin Sell, 1 up, in the 36-hole final at the links of Royal Porthcawl.
Larrazabal follows in the footsteps of Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia, champions in 1984 and 1998, respectively. The reward for winning the game’s oldest amateur event is a place in next month’s British Open at Muirfield, as well as next year’s Masters.
“I’m going home tomorrow to celebrate,” Larrazabal said. “I don’t know how, but it’s going to be a good one. I can’t believe I’m going to be playing in the British Open and the Masters. It is going to be an unforgettable experience.”
The Larrazabal brothers made quite an impression at Porthcawl. Brother Pablo caddied for Alejandro only after failing to qualify for match play himself. The 19-year-old spent the week sprinting after Alejandro’s wild drives.
“Pablo was great all week. He read all my putts for me and gave me great confidence on every shot,” Alejandro said. “He will be caddying for me at the British Open and at Augusta.”
Alejandro took advantage of an excellent short game to win. Time and again he made par from seemingly impossible positions. Yet, it was straight driving and iron play that ultimately won him the championship.
Larrazabal never trailed in the final. In fact, he was 4 up after five holes and 3 up after 18. Sell stayed patient, however, and managed to draw even after holing a 45-foot par putt on the 16th green.
Sell’s strength most of the week was his ability to hit fairways and greens, but he missed the fairway at the reachable par-5 17th hole. He was forced to lay up and could only make par. Larrazabal, on the other hand, found the fairway off the tee, then hit a perfect iron shot to the green. Two putts later, he walked to the 18th with a crucial one-hole advantage.
“After getting all square at the 16th, I was buzzing,” Sell said. “I was determined to hit the 17th fairway, but I’ve had a problem with that hole all week. I hit it in the left-hand rough and could only hit an 8-iron out to the fairway.”
The Spaniard again found the fairway on the final hole, then knocked a 7-iron to 7 feet after Sell missed the green with his approach. The Spaniard punched the air in celebration after his second shot, and the victory officially was his when Sell duffed his chip shot from a poor lie and conceded the match.
“I was so nervous on the last hole that it was unbelievable,” Larrazabal said. “Now I’m going to rest for a week and start practicing for the British Open.”
Larrazabal just completed a marketing degree at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., near Myrtle Beach. Nothing from his college career suggested he would win the British Amateur, however. He was ranked 398th in the final 2002 Golfweek/ Sagarin college rankings.
“I’m really grateful to my coach at Coastal Carolina, Alan Terrell,” Larrazabal said. “He made a couple of changes to my swing that made me a better player.”
The Spaniard came through the tougher half of the draw, and defeated Zane Scotland on the 20th hole in the quarterfinals, then dispatched Walker Cup player and Augusta State standout Jamie Elson at the 19th hole in the semifinals.
Sell had an easier route. The 23-year-old from Swindon, England, defeated David Price, 7 and 6, in the quarterfinals and Graham Gordon, 1 up, in the semifinals.
“I’m absolutely exhausted,” Sell said. “But if you had told me at the start of the week that I’d be in the final, I’d have been delighted.”