The Captain's Blog - Part 2

European Ryder Cup Captain Jose Maria Olazabal

The Captain's Blog - Part 2

With The 2012 Ryder Cup now only six months away, we catch up once again with European Ryder Cup Captain José María Olazábal as the countdown to Medinah continues……

By José Maria Olazábal
European Ryder Cup Captain

Six months to go…!
Hello everyone and welcome to my latest blog as we continue the build-up to The Ryder Cup. It is funny but I remember one of the things many of the past Ryder Cup captains saying to me was how quickly the time went by in the build-up to the match and I can definitely testify to that – I can hardly believe that we are now only six months away from the first tee shot being struck at Medinah!

Because of that you can certainly feel the excitement growing in all quarters of the game. I notice it every time I read anything about golf in general or after a tournament, the winner is always either asked by the media about how this has improved his chances of getting into my team or indeed he himself might bring it up, saying he was hoping I was watching etc. Having been a player in these situations myself many times in the past, it is an entirely understandable emotion, and it’s something which all goes together to help make The Ryder Cup the exciting and unique occasion it is every couple of years.

Resilient Rory……….
Talking of winners, I’ve been delighted to see some of Europe’s best players in the winners’ circle of late in some of the biggest tournaments in the world. Although Rory McIlroy didn’t succeed in the final of the Accenture Match Play in Arizona, he bounced back in style to capture the Honda Classic the following week on the PGA Tour to take him to World Number One for the first time. There are many things that I admire about Rory’s game but one of the most impressive in recent years is the resilience he has built into his make-up. After what happened to him in the Masters last year, many players would have crawled back into their shells when the next Major came around but not Rory, and we all know what happened at Congressional. Now here was another example of that. He was well beaten in the final of the Accenture by Hunter Mahan who played solidly, but once again, instead of disappearing with his head down, Rory stuck his chest out, strode boldly to the Honda Classic and won in style. Fantastic.

Luke who’s behind you…….
Of course, Rory’s stay at World Number One only lasted three weeks before Luke Donald grabbed the mantle back following his victory in the Transitions Championship. Without question, Luke is a remarkable player. After the year he had in 2011 it was always going to be difficult to follow that up and a relatively slow start to this year, by his standards, led some people to start raising question marks about him. But those of us who know the game know that class is permanent and he showed that once again in Florida with a fine win. Such competition for the top places in the game amongst the cream of European talent is wonderful to watch and I know this helps them all spur each other on to reach even greater heights.

Justin Time……….
Sandwiched in between those two triumphs was, of course, Justin Rose’s superb victory in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Florida. Justin is one of the nicest guys in golf and everyone knows how hard he has been working on his game of late so to see it paying off in such style was a joy to watch. It wasn’t just Justin who caught the eye at Doral though, it was good to see Peter Hanson up there in the top six alongside Luke and Rory. It carried on a good spell in the States for Peter who also reached the latter stages of the Accenture Match Play alongside Lee Westwood and Martin Laird. In terms of The Ryder Cup, nobody better than me knows you cannot count your chickens in terms of being in the team even with just six months to go but it is good to see our current top ten at the moment featuring in-form players like Peter, guys who are winning of late like Paul Lawrie and Sergio Garcia, and the small matter of the top four players in the world – Luke, Rory, Lee and Martin Kaymer. Without question these all these guys are hot at the moment, but it is my job and the job of the backroom team around me, to ensure that they – and all the players who make up my Medinah Dozen – are still hot come the last week of September.

Augusta here I come…….
On a personal note, it has been a little bit of a frustrating time for me in a playing sense of late as a troublesome foot injury has taken me off the fairways for a few weeks. It was a pity that this cost me the chance to play on The European Tour, especially when the Tour made its first appearance of the 2012 season in Continental Europe two weeks ago in Spain at the tournament promoted by my dear friend Miguel Angel Jiménez, the Open de Andalucia Costa del Sol. I very much wanted to play to support Miguel who has put a lot of time and effort into his tournament but it just wasn’t possible unfortunately…but Miguel being the type of guy he is, he understood completely and wished me all the best for my recovery and when I am next in action – which looks likely now it will be at one of my most favourite places in golf, Augusta National.

As you can expect, following my wins there in 1994 and 1999, I love that very unique part of Georgia and, as a past champion, the week is very special. The course certainly does not get any easier the older I get but there is still a tingle down my spine and the hairs most definitely stand up on the back of my neck when I stand on the first tee.

I can have my cake and eat it………
Talking of age, since I last spoke to you, I have chalked up another birthday, number 46 to be precise! The day – February 5 – coincided with my participation in the final round of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club and I have to say I was very touched when the tournament organisers brought out a birthday cake for me to cut on the first tee before I teed off. They didn’t have to do that and I thought it was a lovely gesture. I didn’t have any cake before I hit my opening tee shot – but I made up for it when I came off the course at the end!

Happy Birthday Mikael……..
Talking of birthdays, I’d like to end by wishing Spanish footballer Mikael Arteta all the very best for his 30th birthday which he actually celebrates today, Monday March 26 – and what better way to celebrate than by scoring on Saturday for Arsenal against Aston Villa!

I wouldn’t say that I am a huge football fan but I always keep an eye out for Mikael’s career considering he was born in San Sebastián near my home. He began his football career with Antiguoko, a local side in San Sebastián, and his great friend as a youngster was Xabi Alonso, who played for Real Sociedad and now for Real Madrid. Mikael himself was a trainee with Barcelona and also played for Real Sociedad before going to the UK where he now plays for Arsenal FC. I’m not sure if he plays golf – I must ask big Arsenal fan Ian Poulter the next time I see him!

That is all for now. Thanks for reading and, until the next time, enjoy your golf.