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Early season pain in Spain as the long haul trips loom large again

It was nice to be heading to Europe for this week's event, it was the first time we've had a tournament this close to home since Portugal in October last year.  Everything since then has involved a long haul flight and has been a long way from home, even our next two events take us to South Korea and then China.

It's a little different when you get to the airport travelling Easyjet rather than Emirates.  Every kilo counts with Easyjet whereas I've amassed enough tier points with Emirates that I get to travel with 56kg now! 20kgs for your bag and 12kgs for your clubs is a little different!  I can't complain about the service though, it's been reliable over the last few years and I'm hoping for no delays for the rest of this season too!  I like the way they've introduced the allocated seating on flights now, it's not such a scramble getting on board and I can also book the extra leg room seats at the exits; they're a little more expensive but definitely worth it in the long run!

Valencia is a difficult place to get to from Belfast, there are no direct flights and the Dublin flights were at awkward times.  Last year Bev and I flew from Gatwick to Valencia direct but having moved home it was a choice of two flights via London or fly to Barcelona on Monday and drive for 3 hours.  We opted for the later option; I don't like having to take two flights if I can avoid it just in case my clubs get lost.  Trying to get your clubs delivered in a different country is a real issue!  We flew into Barcelona and hired a car for the week; stopping in McDonalds for a quick bite before setting off on the 3 hour drive to Valencia.  The AP7 toll road in Spain makes journeys like this a real pleasure and I wish I had my car over there to drive along the almost empty roads.  They are a little expensive and I think we spent about €60 on the various tolls before we arrived in Valencia.

We drove through Valencia and arrived in El Saler, a small village close to the course.  We'd booked our accommodation on Booking.com and knew it was a little different to most weeks but we were still surprised by what awaited us!  We'd booked into a glorified camp site and had a wooden cabin on what reminded us of a POW camp from the movies!  It was very odd to say the least and very different to the 6 star hotels we'd stayed in on the Middle East swing of the Tour!  It reminded Bev of Fawlty Towers or a Carry On Movie; the staff spoke no English and our Spanish is terrible so checking in was entertaining!  After a quick cursory look around the kitchen/dinner and the bedrooms we were glad we'd booked the larger cabin.  At least this way I could fit in a bed, even though it was diagonally across it!  Bev was relegated to the "bunk room" with 3 bunk beds in it - cosy!  We then headed straight to the nearest Carrefour to stock up on supplies and tin foil for the windows, they hadn't provided curtains or shutters!  We couldn't resist the "deal" of the century - €12 for a beach BBQ which we made up and used every night.  It's impossible to get decent food between 430 and about 830 in Spain so that's why I always try and have Bev accompany me on these trips; she cooks our food and we can head to bed at a reasonable time instead of eating late and getting to bed even later!

I headed up to the course for my first look around on Tuesday and fitted in the usual 9 holes.  I spent a lot of time chipping and putting as the greens at home haven't had enough growth yet to be rolling well.  The greens in Spain were a lot better than those at home, but it's still early season there too and they were a bit bumpy.  It was going to require patience all week with them!  I hit the ball well in practice, didn't miss a fairway and was pleased with the changes Justin Parsons has helped me make in my swing last time I was in Dubai.  I've also changed from the PROV1X ball to the PROV1.  I feel it's giving me more control in the wind and more feel around the greens.  I'm not the only convert either; Adam Scott changed last year and he's just won the Masters!  Adam has been great Brand Ambassador for Titleist with his game and looks; he's really helped promote the product.  I think the equipment is quality now and the service I receive from the Tour reps is fantastic; it's great to see the brand back up there rivalling Nike, Callaway and Taylormade.

I had to play in the Pro-am again this week; I guess I'll have to play in just over 50% of them again this year.  I quite like them when I can find out a bit about the guys I'm playing with which isn't always easy depending on where you are and the language barriers involved!  The team this week were very chilled out but didn't really speak much English.  They came from Alicante, about 120 miles south along the coast and were decent golfers.  I played well and hit 12 fairways and 14 greens, made about 6 birdies, so I was happy with my game and looking forward to the rest of the week.  I arrived back to the cap site to be greeted by 5 hens and 3 tiny goats trying to steal my food from the BBQ; it really was like something from the Carry On series!

I'd a very late tee time on Thursday; 1440 and was drawn with Lee Slattery and Soren Kjeldson.  They are great guys and are lovely players.  Soren caught his thumb in the hotel lift on the way to breakfast that morning, and he had blacked out for a few seconds at the time and again during breakfast, so he went to see the Doctor at the course and was certified fit to play.  His finger and thumb blue-black and he was struggling to grip his clubs never mind hit the ball!  He was struggling through the pain and shot +5.  Lee is generally a lovely ball striker and I like watching him play; he rarely misses a fairway but it wasn't one of his best displays from the tee on Thursday and he was spraying the ball a bit surprisingly.  He did eagle one of the early par 5s though helps the card.  He eventually ended up on +3.  I was hitting it well but my putting was clumsy.  I was also a little unlucky with where I missed the fairways.  On one of the par 5s I managed to get it behind a low branch of a tree and decided there was enough room to git it under.  Unfortunately the ball popped up, hit the tree and bounced back towards me.  In the end James and I decided to take a penalty drop and I made a double bogey.  I ended up on +3 even though I hadn't played poorly.  Our group was dragging each other down, sometimes that can happen, same as sometimes you can all drag each other along to great scores.

I was up early on Friday morning and I missed the fairway on 15 with my layup ending up in the bunker instead; it really was a comedy of errors and I made bogey on the par 5.  I also made a clumsy chip from the fringe on the par 3 17th and the resulting bogey left me way out from the cut line.  I got it back to +4 but was pushing too hard on the way in and the old fashioned Spanish layout bit me.  All in all it was a depressing round.  Lee played well and made the cut but Soren was as frustrated as I was and shot another unflattering score.
We packed up quickly and headed back to the campsite to check Easyjet and see when we could leave.  Our return flight to Belfast from Barcelona was on Monday and neither of us relished spending longer than we had to in the cabin.  Thankfully there was a direct flight from Alicante on Saturday and we booked it up, glad to know the week was almost over.

It's not the start I would have liked for the season, but I've found it hard when there have been large gaps in the schedule; it's been hard to build any sort of momentum, especially when I'm trying to remodel my swing a bit.  I've never made the cut at the Spanish Open, even though it's played on different courses every year.  Maybe it's one to miss next year……even