Olazabal perfect fit for Ryder Cup captain role
JOSE Maria Olazabal has the leadership and inspirational qualities to enable Europe mount a successful defence of the Ryder Cup at Medinah, near Chicago, in 2012.
Ryder Cup insiders report that Olazabal will be named Europe's next captain before Christmas -- a move that will be welcomed by many as his passion for the event has shone through in each of his seven appearances as a player between 1987 and 2006.
And there's a lovely symmetry about the Spaniard having the captaincy in an away match to the Americans as he made his debut as a 21-year-old in 1987 at Muirfield Village, when Europe carved out a historic first win on American soil since the event began in 1927.
In less than two years' time he will do all he can to inflict a similar defeat on the USA, this time as captain. The role is made for 'Ollie', who could have been the skipper at Celtic Manor if he had said yes when offered it by the Tournament Players Committee in early 2009.
As a captain of the Royal Trophy Team (Europe versus Asia) in Thailand in 2008 and a vice-captain to Nick Faldo in the Ryder Cup at Valhalla the same year, Olazabal impressed the players with his passion.
The big drawback to his career has been ongoing health problems which have severely curtailed his playing schedules in recent years.
Olazabal staged a great comeback from rheumatoid polyarthritis to win the 1999 Masters, giving him a second Green Jacket to go with his first Augusta National triumph in 1994.
Top players including Lee Westwood have endorsed the Spaniard for the Ryder Cup captaincy and outgoing skipper Colin Montgomerie echoed those sentiments.
Monty even drafted in Ollie to his backroom team on the second day of the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor last October, when the latter was attending the event as a promotional representative for a coffee company.
Olazabal has expressed reservations about taking on the captaincy if he could not play regularly on Tour, in accord with the line of thinking that says a Ryder Cup skipper should be mixing competitively with the players.
However, considering he will be 45 in February, and even if he can only manage a limited playing schedule, this is surely the time for Olazabal to claim his place at the hub of a Ryder Cup team.
The candidacy for Gleneagles in 2014 will be hotly contested, with Irish players Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke as well as Denmark's Thomas Bjorn and Spaniard Miguel Angel Jiminez sure to be among the contenders for the job.
As a player, Olazabal has won 30 tournaments worldwide and he was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame last year. It's interesting to note that the Spanish star made his first appearance at an Irish Open back in 1985 at Royal Dublin as a 19-year-old amateur.
He came into the tournament with a big reputation, on the back of capturing the prestigious British Amateur championship the previous year, when defeating Montgomerie 5 & 4 in the final.
This writer noted Olazabal's potential at the Irish Open that week, although he finished down the field on five-over-par 289. The headlines that week belonged to two men who were also forever to be linked with the Ryder Cup.
Seve Ballesteros came from three strokes behind with four holes to play to join Bernhard Langer, who had shot 63 in the final round, on ten-under-par 278 at the head of the field. Seve, the reigning British Open champion at the time, then went on to beat the Masters champion in a dramatic play-off.
Olazabal turned pro later in 1985 and won his card by finishing first at the Tour School.
By 1990, when he won the Irish Open at Portmarnock, he was already a proven tournament winner and an established international star at the tender age of 24.