Olazábal faces Spanish Media in Madrid
Ryder Cup Captain José María Olazábal looks looked ahead to The 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah covering a wide range of subjects from how to invoke the spirit of Seve and what to expect in Chicago this September.
Olazábal was speaking during a to a special luncheon in Madrid where George O’Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour, welcomed the leading Spanish media to join in the 40 year celebrations of The European Tour and the centenary of the Reale Seguros Open de Espana.
José María Olazábal Q&A Session
JMO: I'm proud to be here with all the media people that I know from all this years. It’s a privilege to be here, to be captain of the Ryder Cup. It’s going to be a very important year for me and for the European golf. Hopefully, coming September the 30th… or if there is a rain delay a day later, we will have this trophy back.
Q: Do you have some vice-captains candidates in mind?
JMO: I have some names in my mind, but I will try to wait as much as possible to take that decision depending on what some players are doing and who is already on the team. I'm going to give you an example… but don't read it too much into it, it’s just for the sake of putting an example: Thomas Björn might be a good vice-captain candidate, but after what he did last season and the way he’s playing this season, he could be in the team. That’s why I think it’s preferable to delay the decision as much as possible and I have said I will do that. Miguel Ángel Jiménez has a very interesting game for a team event, since he’s very consistent from tee to green and a player to depend on. I hope from here to September he will bring his A game to be in the team.
Q: Monty said: “When Ollie speaks, everybody listens”. Is it one of the best praises you've ever received?
JMO: It’s great, no doubt, but we might need to analyze why they're listening. That’s more important that the mere fact of listening. There must be communication, a relationship between the captain and their players, they must believe in you… There are a lot of important elements. If they listen because of all those things, then great.
Q: Are you thinking in paying a tribute to Seve in the team room?
JMO: Somehow the memory of Seve must be there. We are thinking about the best way to do it and I cannot give you more details right now. Severiano has been a prominent figure for the European golf and, especially for The Ryder Cup. We have to find a way to infuse his fighting spirit and how he managed to make us believe we could beat the US team into our players.
Q: Do you have any motivation techniques?
JMO: I don't have any particular motivation techniques. It will depend on how I will find my players in each and every moment; it’s not the same if everything is running smoothly and the moral is high or if you need to support a player that don't feel particularly well that week. When the going gets tough you have to be ready to lend a hand, but I must say that the Ryder Cup players don't need motivation, because just the fact of playing against the US team is more than enough motivation for them.
Q: Since nowadays most of the top-ranked players in the world are from Europe, do you consider that this time around the European team is the favorite? Do you feel you risk losing the fighting spirit of the underdog?
JMO: Don't worry; I'll make sure our players don't feel overconfident. If you look at the cold hard facts, although the first three players on the OWGR are from Europe, in the top ten there are five European players and five American players, and we are still in April and there are a lot of tournaments left.
I don't agree with the people that think we are favorites. In the Ryder Cup history, a lot of times we got there as underdogs and managed to win, and the only time we went as clear favourites we were beaten badly. The OWGR is only a reference and at the end of the day the only thing that matters is how you play on the Ryder Cup week.
Q: After what happened at Valhalla, are you going to warn your players about what might be waiting for them in Chicago?
JMO: No doubt, playing in Chicago it’s going to be tough because it’s a sports-loving city and when I was there last September with Davis Love and the PGA I could see a great atmosphere. They tried to get the Olympics and the Superbowl and didn't got them, but now they have one of the most important sports events in the world and the whole city it’s going to be behind the Ryder Cup. Chicagoans are very vocal fans, but a lot of European golfers have already played there and they know what it’s like, although this is the Ryder Cup and everything is multiplied.
Q: Will you remind your players what happened at Brookline, when the US team began to celebrate before you even had the opportunity to hit your last putt?
JMO: No, I won't do that. Every Ryder is different and that happened because there were a lot of factors concurring; I. e., at the beginning of the week, the US press took their victory for granted and they thought they were going to destroy us; coming Sunday, we were up by four points and the US press crucified the American team, so it was only natural that after coming from behind all that pressure went off. I'm not going to remind my players what happened back then.
Q: Are you going to limit social media in your team?
JMO: I haven't given it a thought yet. We’ll see. Nowadays Facebook and Twitter are big for some of them, but I'll try to make sure they'll focus on the right thing that week.
Q: Do you feel pressure about the wild cards? Will nationality carry any weight when doing your picks?
JMO: Not at all. I'll have in mind a lot of different elements. I will visit Medinah around the time of the PGA Championship to see how they're preparing the course and there will be other factors (character, stats, performance on the last tournaments, etc.) to try to be as fair as possible.
Q: Do you feel the changes you made in the selection process, putting the European Point List before the World Ranking List, satisfy your needs?
JMO: Yes. When we run our model with past Ryder Cup players, on every case (at least on paper) we got a stronger team, a more solid team. If we look at this year’s team, little by little is shaping nicely. With our current criteria, our players need to play well in our Tour and, after that, we have the people that are going to be in the team through the world ranking, golfers that have already played against the best American players on WGC events, US tournaments and majors.
Q: Do you feel an extra pressure being the second Spanish Captain and for being compared with Seve?
JMO: I don't feel that way. Seve was unique and although there are some similarities, we are also very different. At the end of the day I just want to do a good job as a captain, motivating my players and making sure those players feel my support during that week.
Q: Since you were named Captain of The Ryder Cup, have you felt any difference in the treatment from your players? Do they call you sir or mister captain (laughs)?
JMO: I don't think so, because I didn't get any special Christmas gifts. They all know I'm still the same person, I've known most of them since a long time ago and I'll always be there if they need something or they want to ask me a question. I didn't feel any difference in how they treat me.
Q: You were vice-captain on the last two Ryder Cups… Of which one did you learn more?
JMO: I learnt from the two Ryder Cups. I learnt from the loss at Valhalla and also from winning at Celtic Manor. Even as a player I learnt a lot, things that I have seen afterwards as a vice-captain, things that I will try to remember.
Q: Are you going to follow the Monty-style or the Faldo-style of captaincy?
I'll follow the Olazábal-style.
Q: You had the fortune to have Seve as a mentor on your first Ryder Cup and he conveyed you the spirit of this event. How will you convey that same spirit to your players?
JMO: Talking about feelings and past experiences… If you can turn those feelings and experiences into words, gestures, actions and images, your players will be aware of the importance of this event.
Q: Most European Ryder Cup teams had leaders (Seve, Monty, you), but now you have a young, although experienced, team? Who should be that leader?
JMO: Very often, the leader is not the player with the best record. Leadership is a question of character, passion, and knowing how to infuse that passion into your teammates. I'm not going to give you names, of course (laughs).
Q: When managing your team, do you identify more with Guardiola or with Mourinho (laughs)?
JMO: I'm not going to shy away the question. I think I'm more like Guardiola.
Q: Are you worried that the friction between some European heavyweights could cause some troubles during the Ryder Cup?
JMO: I'm not worried at all. I had also problems with some players, but those problems were left behind as soon as Ryder Cup came. I hope they are mature enough, but if I see any friction I will let them know.
Q: Chicagoans are a noisy crowd. Have Davis Love III given you any guarantee about fans behavior?
JMO:They are going to be noisy as hell, no doubt, but I hope they don't cross the line of what it’s considered an ethical behavior. One thing is supporting your team till the end and another disturbing or upsetting the other team. Of course, there is always a black sheep doing some stupid thing at the wrong time, but I'll speak with my players and I'll try to make sure that they are ready and don't let those things affect them.
In the past there were some Ryder Cups with a rarified atmosphere, but lately the spirit of The Ryder Cup have prevailed and I'm sure there are some things that won't happen again. The crowd will be noisy, of course, and they will support their team, but The Ryder Cup is again the competition we all hope for.
Q: Have Davis Love III guarantee you that he’s not going to be like Paul Azinger?
JMO: Of course not, and I won't guarantee that either (laughs). Anyway, Davis will be himself and won't act out of character.
Q: Did you see something at Valhalla you didn't like?
JMO: There were a few incidents. Here and there, when a European player was on the pre-shot routine, almost at the address, you could hear someone shouting “Hit it in the water!” or something like that, but only from people that didn't deserve to be there and is doing a disservice to the rest of the fans.
Q: Would you rather be captain in a Ryder Cup played in Europe than in United States?
JMO: Of course, being a captain here in Europe is more pleasant. You know the atmosphere is favorable, the crowd supports you and the European fans chants are a thousand times better than the American ones.
Q: Would you accept a second captaincy?
JMO: No, I wouldn't out of respect for all the people waiting on the list. There are a lot of candidates and only a few Ryder Cups available and all of them deserve the chance to be captain in a Ryder Cup. Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke, Thomas Björn, Lee Westwood, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, Paul Lawrie… Most of them are more than 40 years old and I don't see a Ryder Cup captain with more than 50 years old.
Q: After your Ryder Cup debut in 1987, did you expect to have so much success throughout this competition?
JMO: No, but I didn't expect to have the career I have, although you always dream when you are young. I'm more than satisfied with having felt a lot of the things that most of the people never have the chance to feel, both good and bad, because the bad times make you enjoy and appreciate more the good times.
Q: Ryder Cup captaincy usually has a “closing curtain effect” on most careers and I cannot remember any player winning on European Tour after being a Ryder Cup captain. Is that a challenge or are you going to resign yourself to that fate?
JMO: Golf is always a challenge, no matter if you are 18 or 55 years old. That’s another challenge, no doubt. I'm not going to quit and I think there’s still a glimmer of hope. I love practicing, I love playing golf and while I'm strong and healthy enough, I'll keep fighting.
Q: Everybody agrees that Seve Ballesteros was the embodiment of the Ryder Cup. Do you remember any backstage story you can share with us about Seve’s spirit in a Ryder Cup played on US soil?
JMO: In most of the meetings before the Ryder Cup, with everybody around, captain, vice-captains and players, Seve always had the last word. He made quite clear that the more important thing wasn't to say something, but how to say it. He always managed to convey the core Ryder Cup values: no quitting, being always ready, being capable of facing any adversity, don't letting the fans affect our games, etc. He always felt the US players look down on us and emphasized that fact to spur us.
Q: Seve and you were the best Ryder Cup pair ever. Do you see any current pair that could be close?
JMO: I would be speculating and I don't have enough information to give you an answer. There are a lot of young players that are doing great, but finding the right mix of chemistry and understanding, the way we saw each other’s shots… it’s pretty difficult. Nowadays, golf is a completely different game; things like skill, feeling and imagination were more important back then, but right now there are other prevailing factors.
Q: Did you have to encourage Seve in a Ryder Cup?
JMO: There wasn't any need to encourage Seve. Maybe I had to support him a couple of times when he hit a couple of bad shots… Then, I tried to make light of it and said: “Don't worry, I'm here and we are going to win this thing. Go!”. As soon as he hit a couple of good shots, everything was fine again.
Q: Manassero was at the last Ryder Cup to learn and feel what this competition is. Have you thought about taking Javier Ballesteros with you?
JMO: I think it’s too early for Javier. Manassero wasn't the only one; Martin Kaymer was at Valhalla and he always said that being there it was a great experience and very helpful for him.
Q: Who’s the best partner for Sergio García?
JMO: A player who is solid from tee to green (laughs). He did great with Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. Maybe Luke doesn't hit the ball as far as Sergio or Lee, but you can depend on this type of players. It’s almost guaranteed he’s not going to miss a shot. Nowadays, more than ever, you have to be consistent from tee to green.
Q: Seve and you didn't need to find fairways to win Ryder Cup matches. Do you see somebody in the European team that could be like you and Seve in terms of fighting spirit? Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy?
JMO: Rory is a long hitter and he could fight in any match without finding fairways, but the preparation of the course will be a deciding factor. If we search for a Seve-like style, perhaps we should look in the American team… Bubba, the Masters’ winner. Lee, Luke and Graeme are very consistent players… Perhaps Graeme McDowell is like Seve in terms of guts and character. It’s like a pitbull… When he bites, never let the fellow competitor off.
Q: Have you talked with Alvaro Quirós? He’s out of the team right now. Do you think there is any way to motivate him?
JMO: It’s not a motivation issue. He is eager to be in the team and had an awful time when he couldn't be with us at Celtic Manor although he had a great first half of the year. I was practicing with him at Augusta, after us both missed the cut, and he is aware of what’s happening. Truth be told, he still have room for manoeuvre and there are a lot of money on the table. If he plays well, he could still make a giant step forward, but it’s not a motivation issue.