Jose Maria Olazabal will captain Europe’s Ryder Cup team when it defends the trophy against the United States at Medinah in 2012.
The 44-year-old Spaniard, who played in seven Ryder Cups and was Europe’s vice-captain for the last two matches, was appointed captain on Tuesday. He succeeds Colin Montgomerie, who guided Europe to a 14 1/2 - 13 1/2 victory at Celtic Manor, Wales, in October.
Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion and the unanimous choice among Europe’s leading players, described his appointment as the “proudest moment” of his career.
“This is a huge responsibility to be the next captain, and also, I have to say that it’s I think one of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest challenge I will have in my career, especially at this time of my career,” Olazabal said in Abu Dhabi. “All I can say is that I will try to do the best that I can, try to be close to the players.”
His goal, Olazabal said, would be “of course to keep the cup in our possession.”
Olazabal has struggled with chronic back problems in recent years, limiting his appearances on tour to just three events in 2010, but said his health was improving.
“My health was the main concern,” he said. “I have to say that in the last couple of months, since I played Valderrama last year, I felt a noticeable improvement in my health condition, and good health prevailing there should be no problem. I’m feeling much better and that’s the reason why I said yes.”
An essential requirement of the European Tour is that a captain plays a full tournament schedule in the year of a Ryder Cup to stay close to potential members of the team.
“I have accepted the captaincy but I think my desire to keep playing is known by everyone,” Olazabal said.
Olazabal said he “would sit down and think” about any changes in the qualification system.
“I can assure you that I’m not asking for any extra picks,” he said. “If anything, I’ll try to reduce it back to two. You know, the more picks you get, the less value I think you give to the players that finish from eight to 10.
“I think to finish in the top 10, you have to play great golf, and it was proven the last time. And to make the top 10, you need to have an extremely great year. And it would be a shame to tell any of those guys, `you’re not in.”’
Thomas Bjorn, chairman of the European Tour Tournament Players’ Committee, said Olazabal was the overwhelming choice of the players.
“Speaking to players on tour and speaking to committee members, it was probably the easiest decision we’ve ever have to make for Ryder Cup captain,” Bjorn said.
“There was a general feeling from the whole membership that Jose needed to be the next captain. I think in today’s game, he is probably one of the very few players that all of the players on tour associate with what the Ryder Cup is all about -- the passion and the determination.”
Along with being one of Europe’s most popular players over the years, Olazabal has also been one of the team’s most successful.
Olazabal has an impressive Ryder Cup record, winning 18 and halving five of his 31 matches. He has been on the winning side three times, in 1987, 1997 and 2006. He was also a member of the team that retained the trophy in 1989 with a 14-14 draw at The Belfry.
His partnership with compatriot Seve Ballesteros is the best in the competition’s history. The Spanish pair won 11, halved two and lost two of their 15 matches from 1987-93.
Ballesteros said it was the correct call to make Olazabal captain.
“It goes without saying that Jose Maria’s election is the right one because we will have a great leader heading a fantastic group of players,” the five-time major winner said. “In the U.S. in a year and a half, Jose Maria Olazabal and our European team will make things extremely difficult for the American team.”
Olazabal was Nick Faldo’s vice-captain when the Americans won in Valhalla in 2008. He was a late addition to Montgomerie’s staff last year.