Ryder Cup 2012: Jose Maria Olazabal & Davis Love III set tone

 

Ryder Cup

  • Venue: Medinah, Chicago
  • Date: 28-30 September

Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live; daily text commentaries on BBC Sport website. Extended highlights daily on BBC Two.

When 1973 Open champion Tom Weiskopf  was selected for the United States Ryder Cup team to play at Royal Lytham and St Anne's in 1977, he thought so little of the contest that he turned down his place in favour of a bear-hunting expedition to Alaska.

The USA beat Great Britain & Ireland 12½-7½ that year - the last contest between the two, before Europe became the opposition from 1979 onwards.

Bears of a modern-day vintage, whether of the Alaskan or Golden variety, can rest easy.

Last 10 Ryder Cup captains

  • 2012: Davis Love III & JM Olazabal
  • 2010: Corey Pavin & Colin Montgomerie
  • 2008: Paul Azinger & Nick Faldo
  • 2006: Tom Lehman & Ian Woosnam
  • 2004: Hal Sutton & Bernhard Langer
  • 2002: Curtis Strange & Sam Torrance
  • 1999: Ben Crenshaw & Mark James
  • 1997: Tom Kite & Seve Ballesteros
  • 1995: Lanny Wadkins & Bernard Gallacher
  • 1993: Tom Watson & Bernard Gallacher

This week's 39th Ryder Cup is not only one of the most eagerly anticipated few days in an unforgettable sporting year but could also turn out to be one of the most thrilling editions of a contest that so seldom disappoints.

Under cloudless Chicago skies on Monday, the leaves on Medinah trees beginning to turn the same reddish-brown hue as the striking old masonic clubhouse, both captains left those listening in no doubt about the magnitude of what is to follow.

"You have to make the players realise this is a very special event," said Europe captain Jose-Maria Olazabal, when asked to identify the single most important aspect of his role. "You are going to live moments that you will cherish for the rest of your life."

As a player, his counterpart Davis Love III admitted after the USA's win at The Belfry in 1993 that he had been so nervous at the 18th during his singles match against Constantino Rocca that he only just managed to stop himself from vomiting on the fairway.

McDowell putt seals Europe win in 2010

Today, as an apparently calmer captain, he still understands the unique demands this week will bring.

"It's a lot like the last nine holes when you have a chance to win a major championship, except that it starts on Friday morning," he said. "It doesn't wait until the last nine holes.

"It's a pride in playing for your country and being part of the team that adds pressure, but it's a different kind of pressure. It's very intense; it's almost unfair on the players."

That intensity has turned partisan crowds combative and rendered otherwise mild-mannered captains and players rabid with patriotic fervour.

At Kiawah Island's "War on the Shore" in 1991, USA captain Dave Stockton  admitted he "stirred up a hornet's nest". 

Ryder Cup explained

Ryder Cup Scoreboard
  • Matchplay scoring is used in all the matches. Each hole is played in isolation, with the player or pair taking fewest shots winning that hole
  • Foursomes will be played on the Friday and Saturday mornings. Here, the players take alternative shots with just the one ball per pair
  • Fourballs will be played on Friday and Saturday afternoons. Teams send out pairs of players out against each other. There are four balls in play at once - one for each player - with the lowest score winning the hole
  • On Sunday, 12 singles matches are played, with everyone going head-to-head in solo contests
  • One point is awarded for a match victory and half-a-point for a tie with a total of 28 available

It also hit American captain Tom Kite at Valderrama in 1997, when he hung a banner in the USA team room that read: "Losing is worse than death. You have to live with losing".

Home skipper Ben Crenshaw invited then Texas governor George W Bush into his Brookline locker-room in 1999 to read an address from the Battle of the Alamo.  It was so belligerent that David Duval subsequently stormed out of the room, shouting: "Let's go out and kill them!"

We should not expect quite the same from a man who can accurately be addressed as Captain Love. He and Olazabal have much in common, both turning professional in 1985, playing each other five times in Ryder Cups, sharing an outlook that is more conciliatory than confrontational.

Neither should we expect peace and harmony to break out in one of America's most sport-obsessed cities.

On Monday, Love warned the European team to expect the loudest noise they would ever have experienced on the first tee, predicting the Chicago crowds would be "fired up" for the battles ahead.

As captain, Olazabal, perhaps more than any of his illustrious predecessors, has the experience and character to handle it.

At Kiawah Island in 1991 and eight years later at Brookline, when he was forced to watch motionless as half the USA team and their wives invaded the 17th green with his pivotal putt still to be taken, he stood tall, losing just one of his eight matches.

Last 10 Ryder Cup results

  • 2012: (Medinah Country Club, Chicago)
  • 2010: (Celtic Manor, Wales) - Europe 14½-13½
  • 2008: (Valhalla Golf Club, Kentucky) - USA 16½-11½
  • 2006: (The K Club, Ireland) - Europe 18½-9½
  • 2004: (Oakland Hills, Michigan) - Europe 18½-9½
  • 2002: (The Belfry, Sutton Colfield) - Europe 15½-12½
  • 1999: (Country Club, Brookline, Massachusetts) - USA 14½-13½
  • 1997: (Valderrama, Sotogrande, Spain) - Europe 14½-13½
  • 1995: (Oak Hill, Rochester, NY) - Europe 14½-13½
  • 1993: (The Belfry, Sutton Colfield) - USA 15-13

Now, as a 46-year-old skipper with a total of seven Ryder Cups and 18 victories under his belt, he is the model man for the task ahead.

"When Ollie speaks, everyone listens," said Colin Montgomerie, who selected him as one of his vice-captains at Celtic Manor two years ago. He identified the Spaniard's team-talk that weekend as a critical moment in Europe's eventual nail-biting 14½-13½ win.

For most of his Ryder Cup life, Olazabal played the role of younger brother to the buccaneering, dominant, charismatic Seve Ballesteros, nine years his elder.

His compatriot's long shadow still stretches over this contest; Europe's team are likely to pay tribute to Seve's famous old battle-dress by wearing navy jumpers and trousers with white polo shirts for Sunday's singles matches.

But Olazabal is now the main man and is doing things his way. Seve's brilliance could frequently be accompanied by both chaos and a desire to control every nuance, both as a player and victorious captain at Valderrama in 1997.

Olazabal will be calmer, more flexible, less prone to wild on-course pronouncements and more likely to be the rock.

The USA team appear to have the superior form. Of Love's team of 12, only Jim Furyk has not won on the Tour in 2012.

The teams

Europe

Rory McIlroy (23, NI), Justin Rose (32, Eng), Paul Lawrie (43, Sco), Graeme McDowell (33, NI), Francesco Molinari (29, Ita), Luke Donald (34, Eng), Lee Westwood (39, Eng), Sergio Garcia (32, Spa), Peter Hanson (34, Swe), Martin Kaymer (27, Ger), Nicolas Colsaerts (29, Bel), Ian Poulter (36, Eng)

United States

Tiger Woods (36), Bubba Watson (33), Jason Dufner (35), Keegan Bradley (26), Webb Simpson (27), Zach Johnson (36), Matt Kuchar (34), Phil Mickelson (42), Steve Stricker (45), Jim Furyk (42), Brandt Snedeker (31), Dustin Johnson (28)

Brandt Snedeker's victory on Sunday at the Tour Championship - and the £6.1m FexEx Cup which went with it - left his captain so pleased that he explained the 32-year-old was late to Medinah "because he had to go to the bank".

Yet the Europeans are not far behind. Rory McIlroy has enjoyed four big tournament wins this year; Luke Donald, Paul Lawrie and Lee Westwood have all won twice.

Europe may also have the edge in cup experience. Only Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts is making his Ryder Cup debut.

By contrast only three of the USA's victorious team four years ago at Valhalla have made it to Medinah. Eight of the Europeans have winning Ryder Cup percentages; but not a single American among the 12 has won more individual Ryder Cup matches than they have lost.

Tuesday will bring sights of practice rounds and talk of pairings.

"There are relationships that are created just at this event - the camaraderie between the players, not just within the team but between the teams," Olazabal said.

"There are moments that are unique to this event. They won't happen anywhere else at any other tournament. That's what I learned from Seve, from Bernhard [Langer], from all the past captains."