Olazabal relishing Ryder Cup role as strong European team taking shape

jose maria olazabal
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Jose Maria Olazabal hopes his amazing success as a player will aid him as captain when he brings the 2012 European team with him to Medinah in September.
Mark Garrod
PA Sport

Series: Ryder Cup

Published: Monday, January 02, 2012 | 6:21 p.m.

Jose Maria Olazabal has a hard act to follow when he captains Europe in its defense of the Ryder Cup in Chicago next September.

But, in addition to having witnessed the job that Colin Montgomerie did in Wales, the two-time Masters champion will also try to put into practice everything he learned from the late and great Seve Ballesteros.

Together, of course, they were the most feared partnership in Ryder Cup history -- 11 wins and only two losses in 15 games -- and left nobody in any doubt about how much the matches meant to them.

Then in 1997 at Valderrama, Olazabal played under Ballesteros and helped Europe achieve another famous victory.

He was only 31 at the time, but had been through so much. No wonder the tears flowed -- only a year earlier he had feared his future would be in a wheelchair because of rheumatoid polyarthritis.

Who knows what else he would have gone on to achieve but for a condition that still afflicts him, but after two more appearances as a player in 1999 and 2006, being awarded the captaincy puts him back in the sporting spotlight.

"The two Masters wins at Augusta National are the highlight of my playing career, but this is my proudest moment," he said. "Golf has been my life and representing Europe in the Ryder Cup has given me so much enjoyment.

"It was also a wonderful experience to be involved as a vice-captain with Nick Faldo in 2008 and then again with Colin Montgomerie when we regained the cup at Celtic Manor," he added. "I look forward to drawing on all that knowledge and I will be committed to getting everything right in the build-up to the 2012 match."

Unlike Montgomerie, of course, Olazabal tackles the job on American soil and only one of the last seven contests has been won by the away team -- 2004 in Detroit when Bernhard Langer led Europe.

But just look at the array of talent that should be there at Medinah.

Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer have all become world No. 1s since the last Ryder Cup and Rory McIlroy seems destined to follow them.

Sergio Garcia, so disillusioned with the game and life in general a year ago, has had back-to-back wins since the points race started in September.

He is unbeaten when paired with Donald, and Medinah is where he ran Tiger Woods so close in the 1999 PGA Championship when he was just 19 and where he was third in the same event in 2006.

Justin Rose and Paul Casey, also unable to make the last team and not given wild cards by Montgomerie, have also demonstrated their eagerness to regain their places. Add Graeme McDowell, the hero of 2010 and ready-made partner for McIlroy, and the bulk of a formidable side is there.

The Americans will be under the captaincy of Davis Love this time and, having been an assistant to Corey Pavin, he will have learned that little details can make a big difference.

What sort of team he presides over remains to be seen. Keegan Bradley, left out of the Presidents Cup line-up despite winning the PGA Championship in his very first major appearance, leads the table going into 2012.

A running story throughout the qualifying campaign will inevitably be on whether Woods is going to make it.

Yet even when he was dominating the game, he did not dominate the Ryder Cup. The former world No. 1 has made six Ryder Cup teams, but has only once been on a winning side.

Woods missed the 2008 victory in Louisville because of injury. His lone success was in Boston in 1999 and that was an unlikely triumph from four points down going into the singles. That match was notable for the American celebration on the 17th green when Justin Leonard holed a long putt.

The European player caught up in that was Olazabal. He thinks Medinah could be just as noisy as Brookline was that week.