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Olazabal is the perfect choice

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Rob Hodgetts | 09:34 UK time, Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Jose Maria Olazabal was the obvious choice to succeed Colin Montgomerie as Ryder Cup captain after the Scot stood down following the victory over the United States at Celtic Manor in October.

The 44-year-old Spaniard, who will be 46 when the Ryder Cup is next staged at Medinah Country Club in Chicago in 2012, was next in line and by far the most deserving of contenders, receiving the backing of Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington in the immediate aftermath of the win in Wales.

Olazabal, known as "Ollie", played in seven Ryder Cups between 1987 and 2006. He was also assistant captain to Nick Faldo at Valhalla in 2008 and was poached from a corporate role to help Montgomerie's campaign during Ryder Cup week, having earlier given indications he was not keen to be a vice-captain again.

Olazabal will be forever remembered in Ryder Cup annals as one half of the "Spanish Armada". He teamed up with the great Severiano Ballesteros to win a record 11 matches in their 15 Ryder Cup games together between 1987 and 1993. Olazabal's overall Ryder Cup record is 18 wins, five halves and eight losses.

As an individual player, he won 23 times on the European Tour and achieved six wins in America, most notably the Masters at Augusta in 1994 and 1999.

As part of Europe's "big six" in the 1980s and 1990s - along with fellow major winners Ballesteros, Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle - Olazabal and Scotland's Lyle were the only two not to have been given the role as Ryder Cup captain.

Lyle's age - 52 - now seemingly counts against him, while Olazabal was pencilled in to captain Europe at Celtic Manor but was reluctant to commit because of a yearning to keep playing and a recurrence of the rheumatoid arthritis that has dogged his career.

Montgomerie was drafted in instead - four years earlier than his assumed captaincy stint at the 2014 event at Gleneagles - and orchestrated a famous 14½-13½ victory.

But Olazabal has given the Tour's Ryder Cup committee assurances over his health, and has been rewarded for his services to European golf over the course of an illustrious career.

Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal

"He's the complete captain, if ever there was such a thing," said BBC golf commentator Ken Brown, a former Ryder Cup team-mate and one-time vice-captain of Olazabal.

"He brings the best of every captain, the best bits of Langer, Sam Torrance, Tony Jacklin and so on. He really is a class act, a unique character, respected by everyone, admired by everyone. He played the game in the most sporting fashion imaginable and brings total respect from his peers around the world for the way he's handled himself, coming back from his injuries and winning the Masters. He's a remarkable man and does it all in a quiet, non-ebullient way."

Olazabal was born in Fuenterrabia on the Bay of Biscay in north-west Spain and first played the game at Real Golf Club de San Sebastian, where his dad was a greenkeeper.

He won the British amateur championship at the age of 18, when he beat the young Montgomerie in the final at Formby in 1984.

In his rookie season as a professional in 1986, Olazabal finished second in the European Order of Merit after winning two events.

He made his first Ryder Cup team in 1987, with captain Jacklin pairing the young rookie with his idol Ballesteros for the contest in Ohio. The move paid dividends. The pair won three of their four matches together, leaving Brown, playing in his last Ryder Cup, in no doubt that Olazabal was destined for great success.

"We shared houses in those days - I was with Ollie and Tony Jacklin," Brown told me. "It was one of the turning points in his career. He was 21, a bit nervous and playing with his good friend Seve, the man he so admired.

"It was a tremendous responsibility - we all know how much Seve liked to win. But Ollie holed one putt that week, after Seve had knocked it seven feet past when they needed to get down in two, and you thought, 'this chap is young but he's got heart and nerve and is a tigerish competitor'."

Europe backed up their historic 1985 win, the first for 28 years, with success in Ohio for their first victory on American soil. Olazabal's victory flamenco on the green is a defining image of the match.

Olazabal and Ballesteros reprised their successful partnership in the 14-14 draw at the Belfry in 1989, the American win at Kiawah Island in 1991 and the US victory back at the Belfry in 1993.

On his own, Olazabal's career continued to blossom, finishing second behind Woosnam in the 1991 Masters, when a win would have taken him to number one in the world.

The Spaniard got his revenge at Augusta in 1994, winning his first Green Jacket to emulate Ballesteros, who had become the first European to win the year's first major when he triumphed in 1980. Ballesteros also won the event in 1983 to herald a golden age of European golf.

Jose Maria Olazabal (left) and Seve Ballesteros

The following year, Olazabal was struck down by rheumatoid arthritis, which caused intense pain in his feet and forced him to miss the 1995 Ryder Cup and the whole of the 1996 season.

But he was back in the competition in 1997, a late replacement for the injured Miguel Angel Martin, under Ballesteros's victorious captaincy at Valderrama in their native Spain. He broke down in the post-match news conference when asked to sum up his feelings. "A year ago I could not walk..." was all he could manage before tailing off as his team-mates broke out into a minute-long ovation.

The courageous Spaniard went onto seal a miraculous return from what he feared could be a career-threatening illness when he captured a second Masters title five years after his first in 1999.

Later that year, Olazabal was again inextricably linked with the Ryder Cup at the infamous "Battle of Brookline".
He was drawn against Justin Leonard in the singles on an acrimonious final day and was tied with his opponent on the 17th. When Leonard holed from 45ft, the most controversial celebration in the competition's history followed as the American team invaded the green, with Olazabal still to putt.

After the furore died down, Olazabal missed but he showed grit to win the last for a half, although the US regained the Cup after two straight defeats.

Olazabal's conduct in the news conference afterwards suggested to Brown, vice-captain to Mark James that year, that he was captaincy material.

"The media were baying for a headline but he said all the right things," recalls Brown. "He spoke for about 10 minutes, putting his side over. It was presidential. First of all, English is his second language but he said what he had to so well. He was classy enough to say what he thought without being scolding of anyone and talked with clarity as if he was the spokesman for the team. I thought that was remarkable and should have been the last word on the subject."

Olazabal missed out on making the side in the 2002 and 2004 matches but was back on form in 2006, partnering fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia to two fourball wins, as well as a singles victory over Phil Mickelson, in the record victory at the K Club in Ireland.

That was his last appearance as a player but he performed the role as Faldo's only vice-captain in the US in 2008. Olazabal's speech to the European team on the Saturday night before the singles matches has gone down in folklore on Tour.

"The only time we heard an emotional speech at Valhalla was when Ollie spoke on the Saturday night," said US Open champion Graeme McDowell.

Brown told me he has heard the tales and says that several players were in tears after Olazabal spoke.

In the last few years, Olazabal has been troubled by a recurrence of the rheumatism - this time in his shoulders, back and arms - and restricted to playing only twice in 2010.

But Olazabal's time has come to take the Ryder Cup reins - and Europe would appear to be in very good hands for the trip to Medinah.

"I think you need to take a big personality over there, somebody who has won two Masters, somebody who the Americans know. That all helps to give our team status," said Bernard Gallacher, Europe's captain in 1991, 1993 and 1995.

Brown adds: "There isn't anyone in world golf that wouldn't want Ollie to be captain - and I include the Americans in that."


  • Comment number 1.

    A good choice for what is always the tougher gig - the away leg (unless the oppo captain is Hal Sutton). Calm and unruffled, the players will definatley look up to him as a major winner and a good perfromer under pressure. Great record and experience in the competition will also help and if he can get the right staff with him, Europe should be in good hands (even more vital when away from home). As for Love, difficult to know what to make of him as a captain, obviously very experienced but one of the quieter members of the US Tour. Should be an interesting competition in Chicago and a closer one than in Valhalla.

  • Comment number 2.

    Well done Ollie!! This is well deserved!! I remember the days with you and Seve both playing together!! A magical team!!

    WELL DONE!!! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • Comment number 3.

    Well researched blog Rob... particularly referencing Olazabal's response in the aftermath of the final day Brookline. Olly is indeed the perfect choice.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hmmmm....we all slagged off Monty, but he delivered.
    Now we all love JMO.....a recipe for failure?

  • Comment number 5.

    well written Rob.

    Ollie is a great choice - he is a Class Act .

    Still feel sad that Sandy will probably never be Ryder Cup Captain .

  • Comment number 6.

    The natural choice, I hope to join you stateside sir.

  • Comment number 7.

    Very interesting article, great read.

    However, i believe Olazabal won the Amateur Championship in 1984 and it was at Formby Golf Club. Hate to be picky but as this is my club i thought i should mention it!

  • Comment number 8.

    '' Hmmmm....we all slagged off Monty, but he delivered.
    Now we all love JMO.....a recipe for failure?''

    We all??

    Not me mate!!

  • Comment number 9.

    Good choice, but can't help feeling that whilst the Captain does have some influence it's down to the golfers to perform on the day and whether or not they are in form at the time of the Ryder Cup.

    Sure, the captain has to get the pairings right and the team up for it, but a good golfer should be able to play as a pair or individually with anyone - I guess what gets in the way can be egos and personalities

    I'm not sure whether 'playing away' is harder these days as the top players must have so much knowledge of Medinah abd USA courses, it's a case of finding that smooth swing and cool putting stroke at the right time.

  • Comment number 10.

    Good blog, Rob. Ollie will be champing at the bit to captain a talented side and continue his love-affair with the Ryder Cup.

    But in the long-term, who can we expect to see captain future European Ryder Cup sides? There are no obvious successors to Olazabal so will we see previous captains chosen again, such as the victorious Langer, Woosie, and Monty?

  • Comment number 11.

    Could this blog create a record and be the first ever where everyone agrees? It had to be Ollie.

    Does playing away make a difference? The Ryder Cup is no longer a tournament played with polite applause greeting each side equally. It now engages its participants and those watching as a battle of one side against another (whether or not this is for good or bad). The last few matches have shown what an effect a partizan crowd can have. I would say that where the sides are evenly matched, then it really does make a difference whether you are playing at home or playing away (ask Tiger...)

  • Comment number 12.

    Postscript to "11" - It should be "affect" not "effect" - I will now go away and stand in a corner, wearing a hat marked "dunce" on my head.

  • Comment number 13.

    "Good choice, but can't help feeling that whilst the Captain does have some influence it's down to the golfers to perform on the day and whether or not they are in form at the time of the Ryder Cup."

    Actually, the most important task will be the captain's picks. This is the one area where the captain can mess it up.

  • Comment number 14.

    The "Spanish Armada" and the "Big Six". I have never heard that before. Did like the mention of how he handled himself after Brookline. Not wanting to be controversial, but this is what we will see from him at Medinah. All the right words and all the emotion saved for the Players Lounge. In public, probably the most boring Captain along with Langer. Still, a win is all we want.

  • Comment number 15.

    "Perfect choice", really the only choice.
    Anyone thinking the choice of Captain for playing in the USA has clearly given little thought to how the US media and public would have reacted to Montgomerie. It would have got beyond nasty.

    Would think the European Tour will save Darren Clarke for 2016 in the US as he is so well liked over here, so the puzzle is: Who to pick for 2014?

    Montgomerie again, at Gleneagles? Wouldn't be surprised; what do you think, Rob? Perhaps against David Toms.

  • Comment number 16.

    I am glad the tour has gone for the "obvious". Great choice. I very much doubt that Monty would want to captain again, and I expect that 2014 will go to McGinley. He seems to inspire confidence.

  • Comment number 17.

    Given the rewards (financial) that a Ryder Cup captain can extract from the event it is amazing that Olly got the job unopposed. Amazing in the sense that the players, who are naturally selfish, have all universally accepted that Olly was the ONLY candidate. A great player and a great man who truly deserves the honour of being Ryder Cup captain.

  • Comment number 18.

    Well said. Would love to see Darren Clarke in the role next time around in America as someone mentioned.

  • Comment number 19.

    Definition of "Fly on the wall":
    Ross Fisher, playing this week in an Abu Dhabi threesome with Olazabal and Montgomerie.

  • Comment number 20.

    2014 Lyle
    2016 Clarke
    2018 Mcginley

  • Comment number 21.

    #20 Sandy Lyle Captain after Olazabal! The man's achievements certainly deserve it, there are a loads of bookmakers who would love to take your money for that bet.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    Terrible decision. Olly is too injury prone to be running around after the team. Mark my words we will lose. This decision has been made with heart not the head. Olly, Lyle etc have nothing to offer now.

    Disgraceful appointment and I know many who agree.

  • Comment number 24.

    Probably the worst kept secret in golf, Olazabal is a perfect choice for the Captains role. He is very well respected by the players, and I get the feeling the players will REALLY want to play for him and get a result. Excellent, go on Ollie we're all behind you!!


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