He began the season extremely well, with second places in the Spanish Open at El Prat and the BMW International at Wentworth, and also won the first event of the year on the US Champions Tour (for seniors), the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii. However, just before summer that successful run ended.
With 21 European Tour victories – most recently the 2014 Spanish Open, when he broke his own record as the oldest Tour champion – the Málaga-born star has the second highest number of victories of any currently active Spanish player on the circuit. His tally is only beaten by José María Olazábal’s 23, with Sergio García having won 11.
Barely minutes before this interview, his flight from Austria (where his wife is from) had just landed at nearby Málaga international airport, and on arrival at his eponymous golf academy in Torremolinos, for an event promoting golf in Sevilla province, he was the same as always: full of life and chatty.
- How would you rate your season? What were your objectives at the start of the year?
- The truth is I was hoping for more, especially after enjoying good results in the first part of the year, until the end of May. However, after the US Open, I suffered because my club wasn’t working well enough. Maybe I was a bit stressed and this was affecting my whole game. And in the last few months I haven’t been in very good form.
- Stressed because you weren’t achieving the results you expected?
- Possibly thinking about the results. You start analysing things and that’s what happens.
- What goals do you have for next season?
- Next year I’ll start by defending the tournament I won in Hawaii and then I don’t know. I have the possibility of playing in the Olympics and the possibility of playing in Europe and the possibility of playing on the US Seniors Tour. I have to study the situation to see what interests me most.
- Now that you are about to turn 52, do you see yourself in the short-term more involved with the seniors or on the European Tour?
- Little by little it will be more with the seniors, obviously, but hey, I’m still competing on the European Tour because I see myself as being competitive and capable of winning. The day I think I can’t win is the day I hang up my clubs.
- And what will you do then?
- I don’t know. When we come to that point, we’ll see. Meanwhile, you have to live from day to day. In any event, I can’t stop: I’m a restless soul.
- Are you enthusiastic about the possibility of playing in the Olympics?
- Can you imagine Pisha (his nickname) with a huge Habana cigar in the middle of Olympic Village?
- We can imagine that smoking would be banned there.
- In that case my cousin can play
- Do you think it’s positive that golf has been included in the Olympics?
- Yes, because it gives golf more visibility, and an Olympic sport also has more support from the institutions to continue popularising it. I think there are more things in favour than against.
- How is your golf academy in Torremolinos going?
- Improving. We’ve been open two and a half years, and gradually the figures are getting closer to where we want them to be. It’s cost me a lot to develop, it’s cost me – and is still costing me – a lot to maintain it, but hey, we’re still enthusiastic and keen.
- We guess that your adventures hosting major golf tournaments are now part of history…
- Well yes, because in the end that cost me a lot of money. Obviously, from my pocket there won’t be another euro. I lost a lot, especially the last year when one of the sponsors pulled out 10 days before the tournament; but the event went ahead, because when I give my word I keep it.
- What do you think about the fact that not a single European Tour event is being held in Andalucía, when at one stage the region was the most active in this respect?
- There’s no money, the institutions are not interested and neither are private companies, so there’s little that can be done.
- Bearing in mind this reduction in the number of tournaments for professionals in Spain – which are increasingly scarce – and their limited economic budgets, the future of Spanish professionals does not seem to be all that promising…
- We have good players, but we also have a problem: there’s no national circuit like we had in Spain a few years ago.