Attacked by a swarm of hornets, not allowed to turn pro until he worked on a Santander fish farm, and according to Matteo Manassero the hardest guy on tour… Pablo Larrazabal is far from your archetypal, personality lacking golfer
In addition, the boy from Barcelona who beat Rory and Phil down the stretch in Abu Dhabi last year is now a multiple winner on tour and a look back at his past gives unignorable clues as to why he is successful.
We met Pablo at the Volvo World Matchplay at the London Club and his relaxed, cheeky and infectious demeanour was refreshing.
He said: “In 2004 when I came back from America, where I finished high school, I really wanted to turn pro. My Dad liked the idea but he wanted to teach me how normal people make money.
“He thought the best thing to do was to go with him and work on the family fish farm.”
For seven months, in the UK-like climes of a winter in Northern Spain, Pablo was at work every morning at 7am sharp for a full day of cleaning fish. It was the most menial of the jobs available.
“I got paid about 300-400 euros per month. The deal with my Dad was that I didn’t work Saturdays so I got paid even less than normal people. One weekend a month I went back to Barcelona to see my friends but I had to pay all my own expenses.
“The first money you make is very special. I took a lot of care of that money.
“Through that process I learned how hard you have to work to make money and how hard you have to work to not spend it too fast. It was a tough job but a good experience.”
“I want to win every day, I want to win every week I am out there”
Pablo’s father, Gustavo, was a fine golfer himself representing his native Venezuela in the World Cup of Golf, and his older brother Alejandro won the British Amateur back in 2002.
A young Pablo missed out on qualifying for the matchplay that week by just one stroke after double-bogeying the final hole, but immediately threw his bag down and went out and caddied for his brother on the back nine.
“We shot five under on that back nine and we qualified second. I stayed there caddying for him and we won every round to win.”
The week will be remembered for Alejandro spraying drives and a 19-year old Pablo sprinting down the fairways to locate them in the Royal Porthcawl rough. He got the caddying gig for The Open at Muirfield and Augusta but Pablo admitted that, although they enjoyed their time off the course, neither of them were ready for that level of tournament.
After cleaning enough fish, Papa Larrazabal allowed Pablo to turn pro in November 2004. He slogged his way around the Spanish Tour in a tough first season before he played a smattering of Challenge Tour events in 2006.
He performed better in 2007 on the Challenge Tour and although his Dad helped him a little financially, it was by no means enough to cover his expenses.
Looking back from where he is now, and with what was to happen next, Pablo knew this was a real learning experience, much like his time on the fish farm.
“That process of staying in bad hotels, taking trains and buses everywhere and carrying my golf clubs around was helpful.
“But I made my full Tour Card at Q-School in 2007 and my only goal in 2008 was just to keep it.
“I was playing OK at the beginning of the year and was around 120 on the money list before I went to try to qualify for the French Open.
“I won the qualifier at Chantilly the week before, then won the tournament right from the beginning.”
Pablo went wire-to-wire to beat off Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood to claim €666,660 and change his career forever.
He refused to be drawn on whether he actually said ‘even Tiger in his prime couldn’t have beaten me that week’ in all the excitement, but admitted he was exceptional on the greens.
“No matter how good or bad you play, if you shoot 100 putts not too many people are going to beat you.”
Although relatively consistent over the next couple of seasons he freely admitted he was working hard, but not hard enough.
In 2011 he rectified this and is now commonly known around tour as one of the hardest working and diligent practisers.
That year he beat Sergio Garcia in a playoff to win the BMW International in Munich and moved to the next level.
He cited the big difference as the fact he had put an ‘A-Team’ around him, allowing him to concentrate on simply hitting the golf ball.
And following yet another win, perhaps the most impressive given who he overcame in Phil and Rory in Abu Dhabi, Pablo looks set for yet more success and made a cool €1, 221, 212 in the 2014 Race to Dubai.
Despite his insatiable work ethic he didn’t move from his sofa for 11 hours per day during the Ryder Cup, which should make a lot of us feel better! But he said this was more down to his pure love for the game as a fan rather than attempting to siphon out some motivation for his own career.
“It is not an inspiration, there are not many things that inspire me to work harder because I work as hard as I can anyway.
“Every single pro who plays on tour wants to be better every day and their main goal would be to play on the Ryder Cup and win it.
“I am no different. I want to play majors, win majors and to play in the Ryder Cup and win it.
“Goals is a word that I don’t use though. If you write yourself some goals and you don’t complete them you frustrate yourself.
“I don’t have inspiration. I have my own philosophy. I want to be better every day and because I am very competitive I want to win golf tournaments.
“I want to win every day, I want to win every week I am out there.
“If I play 28 events, I want to win 28 events. Every week is a different story and I want to be as high up as I can.”
At 31-years old Pablo is young in golfing terms and you feel his drive and passion for the game is that of someone ten years his junior. He is impish, inspiring and completely determined.
You get the feeling that now he has the right team around him, over the next few years plenty more trophies will bear the name of the Spanish boy who once scrubbed fish for a living.
I'm the Managing Editor at The Club. I like putting and Rioja. I dislike my low slice.