Captain's blog: Busy times
Leading up to the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club, European Ryder Cup Captain José Maria Olazábal will periodically check in with RyderCup.com to talk about the various things going on in his life on the course, off the course and in his Ryder Cup preparations. This is the first installment of Olazábal's, 'Captain's Blog.'
By José Maria Olazábal
European Ryder Cup Captain
Happy New Year... and here we go!
Happy New Year to everyone and welcome to my first blog as The European Ryder Cup Captain - I'm looking forward to speaking to you on a regular basis in the build-up to Medinah which I cannot believe is now only nine months away.
There is definitely a lot of truth in the saying that time goes quicker as you get older and now, as if to prove that, here we are in 2012 already, with a year having passed since I was appointed... it's hard to take in.
I was really proud to accept the invitation from the Tournament Committee to be Captain because it was decided unanimously, by the players themselves, and that meant a lot to me. I have been on Tour for some 26 years now and I have known a lot of players - some who are not with us any more to some who are just starting out in their professional careers - so to have their unanimous vote meant so much. Everyone who knows me, knows The Ryder Cup is welded to my heart. We want to keep the Cup - of course we do - but I know that Davis and the American team share with us the desire for the match to continue the tradition of fair play and good sportsmanship which has developed since it all began in 1927.
I have wonderful memories of The Ryder Cup, especially with my great friend Seve, but this is something totally different. There is a huge responsibility being the Captain and it is one of the biggest challenges of my career. But I am relishing it.
For me, Christmas and the New Year was spent where you will find me every year at that time - at home with my family and friends in Fuenterrabia-Hondarribia, a small finishing village close to San Sebastián on the Bay of Biscay on the north-western coast of Spain.
Family and friends are the core of my life, they always have been and they always will be. My father Gaspar and I love to go hunting when the season is on and although I am not a big spender, I do like to buy my Dad a new rifle from time to time. My family taught me to appreciate the small things in life, never to put money before happiness, and I have tried to carry that principle throughout my life.
Because we travel so much as professional golfers, I truly value my time at home. I love walking on the beach at San Sebastián and also in the foothills of the Jaizkibel mountains which are close to Fuenterrabia-Hondarribia. I enjoy being alone with my thoughts at times so the Jaizkibel is a nice place to do that; and I guess those times will become more and more valuable as September approaches.
I also spend a lot of time with my friends at home, people I have known all my life. These people would be my friends whatever I did on the golf course and whether I was Ryder Cup Captain or not and, therefore, they are the people who you truly value in your life and who are closest to your heart. We enjoy wonderful dinners together, sampling the local wine and putting the world to rights! They are special times.
In my house, I like listening to music to relax - and my tastes in pop music are pretty wide ranging. I like the older artists such as Tina Turner and Joe Cocker but I also like a lot of the new stuff from people like Rhianna and Lady Gaga. However, I try not to dance to them! Ever since my 'infamous' flamenco on the green at Muirfield Village in 1987, I have realised my abilities as a dancer are pretty limited!!
Another thing I like to do when I have the time is as much charity work as I can. Everyone knows I am involved with The Seve Ballesteros Foundation but back home I have another charity which tries to help the homeless and people in Africa who have no water in their villages or no schools for their children to go to.
Professional sport can be very intense but I have always said we are blessed and are very lucky to love what we do as well as earning a great living from it. But when you see some of the things those kids have to deal with and the smiles on their faces when you are able to do something for them, however small it might seem to you, that is when you realise what is important in life. Those moments are priceless.
No Drawer for me...!
I made it clear from the outset that I didn't want to be talking too much about The Ryder Cup last year because I believe now is when The Ryder Cup truly starts.
However, our qualification system did start last September and I have been keeping my eye on it and I have to say, the early signs for Europe are encouraging. It was fantastic to start the New Year with the top four in the world in the shape of Luke, Lee, Rory and Martin and already a few of our big names have made positive strides in the qualification table.
However, I have played golf long enough to know that while most of the top players will hopefully come through at the top, golf can be a funny game and you can never be one hundred per cent sure of how things are going to pan out. I'm more of the type of person who will take a step back, see how things develop and when the day comes, we will see who is in the team and who is not. I certainly don't have 12 names locked in a drawer at my home in San Sebastian like Monty did in his house in Perthshire! I often wonder how many he actually got right in the end - I must ask him the next time I see him!
Well done Luke, Peter and Sandy...
I was truly delighted, before the Christmas break, to be in London for a very special lunch where Luke Donald was named The European Tour Golfer of the Year; the same function where it was also announced that Peter Alliss and Sandy Lyle are to be honoured for their contribution to the game by being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
As a proud member of the World Golf Hall of Fame myself, I know how special it was for Sandy and Peter to learn that they will be two of the five inductees at the World Golf Village in Florida in May. They are two great guys in the game and we had a superb time at the Lancaster Hotel that day.
The Year to Go...
A couple of months before that, we had the official 'Year to Go' function in Chicago which I thoroughly enjoyed. The celebrations were buzzing with the glitz and the glamour of a Hollywood film premiere - although for us the red carpet was rolled out at 5am as we started an action-packed day by boarding a bus in driving rain and heading for Medinah.
Davis sat alongside me and we were rarely apart as a Media Conference in the magnificent ballroom was followed by a police escort to Trump Tower in the centre of Chicago for a ceremonial 'Captain's Charity Golf Shot' from the 16th floor of the skyscraper down to a man-made green floating on the river below.
By now the wind was howling and the Chief of Police was a touch concerned that it might be too dangerous with hundreds of spectators lining the river - but Davis politely reminded him that we were professional golfers and that we knew what we were doing! To be honest, hitting the green was another matter but the challenge was met and we raised $100,000.
Next we were whisked to US Cellular Field for a White Sox baseball game where taking The Ryder Cup out to the pitcher's mound was the easy part; throwing the ceremonial first pitch was altogether tougher. Davis knew what he was doing but I was very happy to see my ball "stay clean" and end in the catcher's hands. Those pitchers certainly earn their money!
Davis and I were next on stage at the Chicago Theatre in front of a packed audience where we were interviewed (not for the last time I bet!) about the 39th edition of this great competition. We did, of course, get to look at Number 3 - the course at Medinah where the match will take place - despite the rain. It thoroughly deserves its great reputation and, put simply, it's traditional, it's tree-lined and I can assure you the last four holes are made for a classic Ryder Cup finish.
Three cheers for Chicago...
I have to say that, all the above stuff aside, the thing that impressed me most about the trip were the people of Chicago itself who really appreciated why we were there and what this Ryder Cup thing is all about.
You could see the reaction of people we met in the streets or in the various stadiums and theatres; when they saw the logos on our shirts, they got it. Chicago is a city immersed in sport; they understand the passion and the commitment behind sport, which is why I know The Ryder Cup will be a great week both for the people of Chicago and their city.
I know they will be vociferous in their support of the American team. I respect that and I would not want it any other way. But I also know, given their sporting heritage, they will respect our players and appreciate the skills and talents they will bring to what is, quite simply, the greatest golfing show on earth.
Until the next time... thanks for reading.