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  Joel Girbau reflects on a hectic 2021 season (English and Catalan)

Catalan National Matchplay champion Joel Girbau speaks candidly to fippa.org about his busy season that saw much success (like the Catalan International Pairs with Lluis Cucurull) and some near misses (third spot in the Andorra Open).

We wondered if Joel felt he should have won the 2021 Andorra Open (he finished third, just a single stroke out of the Josep Iglesias/Barry Coomber play-off)?

"Winning is very difficult. In competitions there is a very high standard so there are many players who can win. The demand (to play) is growing,which on the one hand is very positive for the competition but makes it more and more difficult to be in the leading positions. For me, the most important thing is to have a chance of victory in every tournament I play. Specifically, at the Andorra 2021 Open I had a bad weekend with the putter and that denied me the final victory."

After his fifth place at Platja d'Aro earlier in the season Joel has now finished close to the top of the leaderboard in two international opens. What does he think he needs to do to win an international open?

"It has been a very good year of play. I've been close. For me, as I said before, the goal is to have chances of victory in the last round, and if I continue like this, I could win an Open."

Joel is a relative newcomer to our sport. "I have played two Opens in Andorra and one Open in Catalonia. In fact, I’ve only been competing in Pitch & Putt for a year and a half. In the future, I will surely have opportunities to contest more."

Girbau is the reigning Catalan Matchplay champion. Does he prefer Matchplay or Strokeplay?

"I couldn’t tell you I have a preference. These are very different ways of playing. In general, here in Catalonia we are more used to playing Strokeplay but Matchplay is a lot of fun, the matches are much more equal."

It must be a great honour to be Catalan Matchplay champion?

"The truth is that it is, yes. It is a great honour to have been able to win the Catalonia Matchplay Championship. It is a source of great pride to have been able to have such a good year, to and to have been able to play so many competitions and so well."

How difficult was it to win that title?

"It was very difficult. The format of this competition is three rounds on the first day and three rounds on the second. This means that you have to be mentally prepared as the wear and tear is obvious. Other than that, as I said before, there are many players at the elite level and it's getting harder and harder to be on top. From the first round I saw that it would not be easy and that I had to be at my best to win the title."

Joel also played in the 5-Nations tournament. What is his opinion of international Pitch and Putt compared to domestic Catalan Pitch and Putt?

"Yes, I was lucky to be able to defend and win the 5-Nations Cup with Catalonia. This was my first tournament with the Catalan team. My opinion of International Pitch & Putt is that it is clearly a sport on an upward curve. More and more people are playing Pitch & Putt. In Catalonia there is a great fondness for this sport. I think we’re close to 10,000 licenses (and that’s great for the future of Pitch & Putt."

How does the Lloret course (where Joel won the Matchplay) contrast with the Vall d’Ordino course (where he finished third in the Andorra Open)?

"Well, they are very different courses. The Lloret P&P  is a course with many trees, narrow and very technical. Teeshots have to be very precise because otherwise you can have problems. The Vall d’Ordino course is a much more open course with much larger greens. It doesn't require as much precision on the pitch, but there are falls hidden in the greens, which makes putting difficult."

During our conversations with Joel, he won the Catalan International Pairs alongside Lluis Cucurull. We wondered if he played regularly with Lluis as a partner?

"It’s the first time we’ve played together as a couple. It is true that we are from the same club, P&P Urgell (Bellpuig), and we share many training sessions and rounds. We understand and complement each other well, which is essential to achieve good results."

Who suggested that they should play together at Sant Cebria?

"Well now, I couldn’t say which of the two proposed it. I know we commented on playing during a game and so it was."

What were the main reasons for the pair's phenomenal 43 in Greensomes at Sant Cebria?

"We knew that the first two rounds, both Greensome and Foursome, were very important to be able to be at the top of the standings on the last day and have a chance of victory. We came out determined to get a great result and so it was. Also, we were helped by a great display from each of us as we both played to a very high level."

Joel and Lluis led from start to finish. Did they ever feel that their lead was under pressure?

"I would be lying if I said no. In the middle of the last day's Fourball, there were couples who came very strong from behind playing at a spectacular level. It was crucial for us make birdie at holes 12 and hole 14, which reassured us and led us to the final victory."

Catalan version

Creus que hauries d’haver guanyat l’Open d’Andorra del 2021?

Guanyar és molt difícil. En les competicions hi ha molt nivell. Hi ha molts jugadors que poden guanyar. L’exigència és cada cop més alta cosa que per una banda és molt positiu per la competició però fa que cada cop sigui més difícil estar en posicions davanteres. Per mi, el més important és tenir opcions de victòria a cada torneig que jugo. Concretament, al Open d’Andorra 2021 vaig tenir un cap de setmana dolent amb el putt i això em va apartar de la victòria final. 

Ara has acabat a prop de la part alta de la classificació en dos Opens Internacionals. Què creus que has de fer per guanyar un Open Internacional?

Ha estat un molt bon any de joc. He estat a prop. Per mi, com he comentat abans, l’objectiu és tenir opcions de victòria a la última volta, i si segueixo així, podria guanyar-ne algun.

Has jugat a moltes altres Opens Internacionals?

La veritat és que no. He jugat 2 Opens d’Andorra i 1 Open de Catalunya. De fet, fa només 1 any i mig que competeixo a Pitch&Putt. En el futur, segurament tindre oportunitats per disputar-ne més.

Ets el vigent campió de Catalunya de Matchplay. Prefereixes Matchplay o Strokeplay?

No et podria dir que tinc una preferència. Són maneres de jugar molt diferents. En general, aquí a Catalunya estem més acostumats a jugar Strokeplay però el Matchplay és molt divertit, s’igualen molt més els partits.

Ha de ser un gran honor ser campió de Catalunya de Matchplay?

La veritat és que si. És un gran honor haver pogut guanyar el Campionat de Catalunya Matchplay. És un gran orgull haver pogut fer un any tant bo, defensar Catalunya a la Copa 5 Nacions i haver pogut jugar tantes competicions i tant bé.

Quina dificultat va tenir guanyar aquest títol?

Va ser molt difícil. El format d’aquesta competició és de 3 voltes el primer dia i 3 voltes el segon. Això fa que mentalment hagis d’estar preparat ja que el desgast és evident. A part d’això, com he dit abans hi ha molt nivell dels jugadors i cada cop és més difícil estar a dalt. Ja des de la primera ronda vaig veure que no seria gens fàcil i que havia d’estar al meu millor nivell per fer-me amb el títol. 

També vas jugar al torneig de les 5 Nacions. Quina opinió tens del Pitch and Putt internacional en comparació amb el Pitch and Putt català?

Si, vaig tenir la sort de poder defensar i guanyar la Copa 5 Nacions amb Catalunya. Aquest va ser el meu primer torneig amb la selecció catalana. La meva opinió del Pitch&Putt Internacional és que clarament és un esport en línia ascendent. Cada cop hi ha més gent que juga a Pitch&Putt. A Catalunya hi ha una gran afició a aquest esport. Crec que som a prop de 10.000 llicències i això és genial pel futur del Pitch&Putt.

En què es compara el camp de Lloret (on vas guanyar el Matchplay) amb el camp de Vall d’Ordino (on vas quedar tercer a l’Open d’Andorra)?

Bé, son camps molt diferents. El camp de Lloret és un camp amb molts arbres, estret i molt tècnic. Has de ser molt precís en el cop de sortida ja que sinó pots tenir problemes. El camp de Vall d’Ordino és un camp molt més obert amb greens molt més grans. No demana tanta precisió de 1r cop però si que hi ha caigudes amagades als greens cosa que dificulta l’encert amb el putt.

Jugues habitualment com a parella de Lluis Cucurull?

És la primera vegada que juguem junts com a parella. Si que és veritat que som del mateix club, el P&P Urgell (Bellpuig) i compartim moltes entrenaments i partides. Ens entenem i compenetrem bé, cosa imprescindible per aconseguir bons resultats esportius.

Qui va proposar que jugueu junts a Sant Cebrià?

Doncs ara no podria dir qui dels dos ho va proposar. Sé que vam comentar de jugar durant una partida i així va ser.

Quins van ser els motius principals del vostre fenomenal 43 a Greensomes a Sant Cebrià?

Sabíem que eren molt importants les dues primeres voltes, tant el Greensome com el Forsome, per poder estar a la part alta de la classificació a la última jornada i tenir opcions de victòria. Vam sortir decidits a aconseguir un gran resultat i així va ser. També, ens va acompanyar un gran joc per part dels dos, ja que vam jugar a un nivell molt alt.

Heu liderat de principi a fi. Alguna vegada heu sentit que el teu lideratge estava sota pressió?

Mentiria si digués que no. A la meitat de la última jornada, al Fourball, hi havia parelles que venien molt fortes de darrere jugant a un nivell espectacular. Va ser decisiu per nosaltres aconseguir birdie al forat 12 i al forat 14 cosa que ens va tranquil·litzar i ens va conduir a la victòria final.