PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Once the gun goes off at the U.S. Open, this much is a given: Once play commences, there won’t be a whole lot of smiling going on.
Then there is Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
Happy to be here? You’d better believe he is.
The 26-year-old European Tour player from the Canary Islands is a breath of fresh air, and he’s hanging around the top of the leaderboard at Pebble Beach. Taking advantage of calm winds that greeted the day’s first tee time, Cabrera-Bello shot 1-under 70, and he is one of only a handful of players able to finish below par at the toughened-up links.
Simply getting to the Monterey Peninsula this week was no easy task. First, Cabrera-Bello had an obstacle with his visa, and he missed his planned Saturday flight from Madrid to the U.S. When he finally got to the States, through good ol’ Philadelphia to San Fran, he waited around a luggage carousel, but his golf clubs never joined him.
Did the airline lose the clubs?
“Well,” said the Spaniard politely, “they didn’t lose them. They actually forgot them in Philadelphia.”
Oh. The clubs would be a day late. So here he was, Monday night at Pebble Beach, one of the most beautiful dreamscapes in the world sitting right in front of him, and all he could do was walk the golf course.
But there he was a few days later, one excusable hiccup aside at 18 – “I completely pulled a 2-iron to the middle of the Pacific” – playing steadily, making two late birdies to climb back below par. His name was near the top of the leaderboard, which absolutely thrilled his parents, and Cabrera-Bello also made sure to take in the moment.
“I was having a laugh, and I’m going like, ‘OK, what’s going on right here? What am I doing up there?’ ” he said.
It’s only his first major, so Cabrera-Bello, who played a handful of junior and amateur events in the States when he was younger, said he is staying realistic on expectations.
So, he was asked, what exactly does he expect over the next three days?
“Well, I mean, absolutely nothing,” he said, smiling. “I think if anything, I played good today because I was actually doing the exact opposite, not really expecting anything of me.”