The Captain's Blog - Part 3

Jose Maria Olazabal

The Captain's Blog - Part 3

In the third instalment of his Ryder Cup Captain's Blog, José María Olazábal reflects on events both on and off the course, as the build-up to golf's greatest show at Medinah in September continues.

Hasta Siempre Seve...
There is no question that this is an exciting time as the anticipation continues to build towards The Ryder Cup in Chicago.

But I have to admit that today - May 7 - is also awash with sadness for me, and for millions of golf fans around the world, as it marks the first anniversary of the passing of my great friend and, for me, the greatest player the game has ever known, Seve Ballesteros.

We were associated in so many ways but for most people we were inexorably linked in terms of The Ryder Cup and I can fully understand that because, when it came to the match against the Americans, Seve and I were inseparable - and he made that so.

When I first played in 1987, I was an inexperienced 21-year-old and I guess Captain Tony Jacklin didn't really know what to do with me. Seve approached him and said: "Tony, I will play with Ollie." The rest, as they say, is history. When we lost Seve last year we lost a great man, we lost an icon to the game and personally I lost a great friend, but he will always be with me in my heart. He was a pioneer of the world of golf. He did things differently. He opened a lot of doors for the new generations. He changed the view on European golf and made us believe we could compete against players around the world - and, of course, that included facing the best from the United States in The Ryder Cup.

I loved every minute of the time I spent with Seve but, most importantly, I learned a lot of things playing with him. It was the way he played on the golf course, his attitude on the golf course and the way he never gave up that I, and many people, will remember most. He fought until the end, the same way he did in fighting the terrible disease that eventually took his life.

As the headline on the commemorative booklet the Tour produced in the week after his passing said: 'Hasta Siempre Seve.'

Congratulations Peter and Sandy...
Today might be tinged with sadness, but it is also filled with joy for two of my very great friends in golf, Peter Alliss and Sandy Lyle, who are being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this very evening in a ceremony at the World Golf Village in St Augustine in Florida.

Both Seve and I were inducted in previous years and therefore I know just what a great honour it is and I know both Peter and Sandy will enjoy their day and they both truly deserve the accolade.

When I went there for the first time, I saw the history that is there and the legacy that the players left behind. To be part of that select group, and in my case to be next to Seve, was very special and very emotional.

From the moment I was told that I was going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, I had time to reflect on my career and my life as a golf professional. There were a lot of emotions coming alive, and that's the beauty of it. And on top of that, the way it's done by everyone there in Florida is just amazing. All the guys who run the Hall of Fame take great pride in what they do and it's fantastic to see the respect they show for the game of golf and for every member in that Hall of Fame. It's just a great experience, one that I will always cherish, and I think it's going to be pretty much the same way for Peter and Sandy, because they are both sentimental and emotional guys.

Sandy was in that 1987 European Team when for the first time we won The Ryder Cup on American soil. Similarly to Seve and I, he formed a great partnership that week with Bernhard Langer - coming together on the afternoon of the first day and winning three matches out of three. As the Captain 25 years on, it will be my challenge to find such successful partnership and I look forward to trying to do that.

Peter, like Sandy, enjoyed a marvellous career and made no fewer than eight Ryder Cup appearances - becoming in 1952 at that time aged 22 the youngest player to appear in the match - although Sergio Garcia now holds that honour after playing in 1999 aged 19 years eight months and 15 days! Peter was also the first son to follow his father as a Ryder Cup player - only Ignacio Garrido has emulated that because his father Antonio and, of course, Seve were the first continental players to compete when the team became European in 1979. Peter almost made history in his first Ryder Cup at Wentworth - where The European Tour has been based since 1981 - because if either he or Bernard Hunt had won their last hole in their singles then the Americans would have been beaten. But he came back to play in the winning 1957 team and in four matches between 1959 and 1965 he won nine and halved four of his 18 games - forming a formidable partnership with Christy O'Connor and including among his victims Arnold Palmer.

As I said, it's going to be a wonderful night for the two of them and congratulations again to them both.

Happy Birthday to The European Tour...
I think I have a pretty good memory for things but I must admit that even I can't remember precisely what I was doing just over 40 years ago at the ripe old age of six which is what I was when The European Tour officially began in 1972! But I have a fair idea that I was at the Réal Golf Club de San Sebastian where I actually hit a golf ball first time aged two and met Sergio Gomez, my long-time friend and manager.

It is incredible to think how far the Tour has come since that very first tournament - the Spanish Open at Pals Golf Club in Girona won by the great Antonio Garrido in a play-off with another Spaniard, Valentin Barrios. Guy Hunt, now a referee with The European Senior Tour, three putted the last to miss the play off although he probably doesn't want to be reminded about that! Manuel Ballesteros - Seve's brother - was also in the field and finished tied 38th for which he was paid £76!! So it is fitting that we are reflecting on that time once again this week as we enjoy the 2012 edition of the Open de España at the Réal Club de Golf in Seville when the winner will earn £275,000 compared to the £1,480 Antonio took home.

I am sure the guys who played in 1972 could not have envisaged what a modern day tournament on The European Tour would look like back then and everyone involved in bringing the Tour from what it was then to what it is today should be very proud of themselves.

Included in that, of course, is my old friend John Jacobs who apart from being my coach for a number of years, also was the founding father of The European Tour in 1972 - without question players such as myself certainly owe John a mountain of thanks for his sterling work both inside and outside the ropes.

It was great to see him attend the recent TV day at Wentworth in the build-up to this year's BMW PGA Championship and good to see him still fairly sprightly at 87. What a fantastic man.

All roads lead to Wentworth...
Talking of Wentworth, we are only three weeks away from one of the greatest weeks of our season, the BMW PGA Championship, which is unquestionably the flagship event on The European Tour International Schedule.

I had the honour of winning the PGA title there 18 years ago in 1994 where I managed to pip Ernie Els and Bernhard Langer down the stretch on a truly memorable afternoon on the West Course. The great Harry Colt-designed layout has, of course, been altered recently to reflect the march of time and new technology in the game with Ernie instrumental in the redesign.

But it is still a truly superb test of golf with a great finishing stretch and we are fortunate to play our flagship event at such an iconic course recognised the world over.

Thanks to the media...
One of the great things for myself and the Spanish players who come over to play the BMW PGA Championship is the number of media from Spain who travel over to work at the tournament and report on our progress.

Golf will never overtake football in terms of popularity in our country but it still has an important role to play in Spain's sporting identity for which we are grateful to the golfing media, many of whom have travelled the world writing about the sport for many years and who, as a result, have become good friends.

Therefore, it was great to acknowledge their contribution last week with a special Media Lunch in Madrid where we got together with people such as George O'Grady and Richard Hills from The European Tour and Gonzaga Escuriaza from the Spanish Federation to talk about all things golf including, of course, the upcoming Ryder Cup. It was a great day and I hope the media got a lot out of it. I know I certainly did.

Georgia on my mind...
In terms of my own golf, I am just trying to get back into the swing of things, literally, after some time off the course with the troublesome crack in my toe. It is still giving me a little bit of discomfort but it is a lot better than it was before and at least now I feel I can walk round a golf course and begin to compete again.

My first outing back from injury was the Masters at Augusta - as I said before, that place is so special to me that I would have played on crutches if they'd let me! Seriously though, it didn't come to that and although my rounds of 75 and 76 meant I didn't get to play on the weekend, I was pleased to get through two rounds and there were some encouraging signs of better days ahead for me inside the ropes.

Talking of encouraging signs, although we didn't see a European player with the Green Jacket on his shoulders come Sunday night, there were still performances to please me as European Ryder Cup captain.

Top of that list was Sweden's Peter Hanson who turned in yet another classy showing Stateside and proved he was not fazed in the slightest taking the lead into the final round alongside Phil Mickelson, and he battled well to finish third.

It was also good from a European perspective to see Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Padraig Harrington and Justin Rose deep in the mix of a Major Sunday to all finish inside the top ten.

Well done to them all but, of course, the main plaudits must go to Bubba Watson who produced a thrilling display to win on the second play-off hole. If Seve was looking down on the first Masters played since his passing, he must have had a wry smile on his face as Bubba bent that ball 40 yards through the trees on the tenth to find the green and set up his victory over Louis Oosthuizen. It was a shot my great friend would have loved to have taken on and, like Bubba, I bet he would have found the green too!

Lesson learned...
I think it's fair to say I've had a few wayward drives in my career but perhaps none as poorly judged as the one I made on my way to South Carolina and the RBC Heritage tournament the day after the Masters.

Honestly, I'm not sure what I was thinking about at the time - perhaps dreaming of Ryder Cup glory come September - but whatever it was, as has been widely reported in the press, I did stray over the speed limit and was pulled over by the local police in Effingham County in Georgia.

They were right, I was in the wrong, but I have to say that the police officers were very courteous and polite and after I had paid my fine and apologised, I got back on my way to Hilton Head, this time keeping a watchful eye on the speedometer. Definitely, lesson learned.

Until the next time, thanks for reading and enjoy your golf.