An Interview With: CAPTAIN JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL
KELLY ELBIN: José, you have three groups out on the golf course, comments on those three groups and also thoughts on the condition of the course here at Medinah, please.
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: The groups are looking good. Everyone seems to be playing okay. They are just getting a feel of the golf course. The weather this morning was much warmer than it has been the last few days. So condition wise, the wind isn't blowing all that much. And the setup of the course is what Davis said yesterday. You know, it's kind of a little bit of a free wheel off the tee, not much rough. The guys are going to be able to be aggressive off the tee with their drivers. The greens are really good. They are quite fast, and I believe they will be faster during the week, so that's pretty much where we stand.
Q. Can you talk about the decision to putt the image of Seve on the golf bag, and is that your decision or how did you come up with the silhouette that you did?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, the silhouette was pretty obvious. He always said that that was the sweetest moment in his career, winning at St. Andrews, making that putt to beat Tom Watson.
Well, obviously, you know, it's tough for me, but it's the first time that Seve is not going to be with us at The Ryder Cup. I miss the phoned the phone call that he did to the team in 2010 at Celtic Manor. He has meant a lot to me and to the team, and I wanted to have something that was present to each and every player.
We come up with the idea that it would be nice to have Seve's silhouette, and so every time somebody gets to grab a club or something from the bag can see the silhouette.
I thought it was important for us to have Seve's memory and presence during this week.
KELLY ELBIN: Captain, when did you first consider playing tribute to Seve in this Ryder Cup?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: It was early. As soon as we started deciding the materials for the golf bag and the shape of the golf bag, straight away we had the idea that we wanted to have a couple of spots available for that, one on the front part of the bag and the other one from the back side of the bag.
Q. One of the things that is constantly said about why there is so much European success over the last 25 years or so, is that there's a lot of passion in The European Team for The Ryder Cup. I know you're a Spaniard so you'll probably be biased when you answer this, but how much of that is because of the Spanish influence and the passion of the Spanish players?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, I have to be honest, I have to say that the situation in The Ryder Cup started to change when continental players started to be part of the team. Bernhard came in, and some of the rest of the Spanish players, Cañizares, and it's true that some of the Spanish players influenced that period of time.
But having said that, I've known Davis and I've known Azinger and they are very passionate guys, and they know this country, and that has been very much a huge presence in their team. I think the patriotism that we have in this country is huge, and you know, they thrive on that at The Ryder Cup.
Us, we do have a continent, and the friendship and the camaraderie that we have on our tour is big and I think that that's why we are so passionate about this event. It gets us together once every two years. We let our defenses down for this week. We try to get as close as possible to each other, and that's why the Ryder Cup is so beautiful.
Q. You were vice captain in Kentucky to Nick Faldo; the last press conference there, you were quite upset about the questions can you explain that?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, I remember that moment. Obviously I thought that question was not intended because Nick fought hard for different issues and he got hammered because of his picks, but nobody mentioned that one of his picks did very well and he is one of our important players ever since.
You know, it's my character; if I feel that something is not intended in the right way, or in a fair way, I will jump at it.
Q. Have you talked to Nick at all?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: No, I haven't. We had a little chat but we didn't really talk specifically about the Ryder Cup.
Q. Could you tell us your thinking on pairing Paul Lawrie and Sergio García together today, and the qualities you think that they have that they could possibly complement each other this week?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, I've made these groups we have quite a lot of players that have done well in the past, and then I've tried to mix a little bit of, not the same characters, but guys that I believe can complement each other and who understand each other really well, and that's why I put Paul Lawrie with the Northern Irish guys and Sergio, because Sergio is a guy that gets close to everyone; he can play with anyone, and that is why I put Sergio with those guys and Paul Lawrie.
The last four guys, that's where we do have four different nationalities, young guys, and we are trying to just figure out certain things still.
Q. Graeme McDowell earlier said that the opening four players are going to be relatively predictable. Are we to expect any surprises, and can you confirm what he said, that himself and Rory will be paired together in the second group?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: I'm not going to talk about pairings, seriously. We know G Mac is a gutsy player. He plays with a lot of heart and those are elements that are crucial and essential to this tournament, to this event.
You know, G Mac has played with Rory before. They have done well, but I'm not going to talk about pairings obviously.
Q. As you know, Michael Jordan has a presence on the U.S. Team here. I was wondering your perspective or take on that. And also, did you meet him in '97? Have you had any personal interaction with him and perhaps a story about your friendship maybe.
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Obviously Michael has a presence everywhere he goes, not just at The Ryder Cup. He loves this event. Obviously he loves the game of golf. He believes that this event is unique and is very special.
I remember him going to '97 over there, but I remember him being at Valhalla; I remember we had a few moments together quite privately, even though it was in the middle of the golf course, on those stairs going from 13 to 14, he was having a nice cigar. We sat down on the stairs there and, you know, we had a nice chat. I mean, he's a very competitive guy. He has, you know, the heart, the spirit of a team player, even though he obviously as an individual, he was an icon.
I'm pretty sure that he will bring quite a bit to the equation on the U.S. Team without a doubt. He has all my respect. I've always said that when I look at sport people, he's one that stands out.
Q. About McDowell, he said this morning that he doesn't know if he necessarily considers himself a veteran, or where exactly he fits on your team; how would you describe where he is and his importance to the European Team?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, he's one of our main men, to be honest. He loves this competition. I think this competition brings the best in him to be honest. He's a very gutsy player. Doesn't matter if he's not striking the ball well. He will fight until the very end. He will fight for every shot, for every inch. And we saw that in the past.
You know, he was at Celtic Manor, by instance, he was last in that single matches on Monday, and I have to say that he was a little down on himself on Sunday night. But you know, as the match progressed that Monday, what he did was outstanding. So that's why I said he's one of my main men.
Q. Down through the years, Ireland or Northern Ireland golfers have played a significant role in The Ryder Cup. Can you tell us how important it is that you have four of them here this week, two on the team and two in the backroom team?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, it's important to have the best players on your team, and according to that, we do have two great players. Obviously we have the world No. 1, he's playing great. Even though he didn't win the FedExCup, but the way he's played the last few months, he's been outstanding.
I would say that he is at this moment very close to how good Tiger was at that stretch of time between '99 and 2002, the way he's playing. He's full of confidence. He's got the whole game, and in that regard, it's great to have players like that on your team.
Regarding the vice captains, obviously they have the experience and it's important to have that kind of experience and respect from the players that are in your team. All those little elements are crucial and important when you're talking about Ryder Cup.
Q. Just wonder if there are any surprises in the American practice groups, and how much time you're going to spend trying to second guess what Davis Love will do on Friday.
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, I know that there is two guys that are not playing on the American squad, I think they are Jason Dufner and what was it, Webb Simpson. Well, I'm not going to discuss or get into Davis's decisions. I'm pretty sure that he knows what he's doing.
I've got one thing very clear when we come to play The Ryder Cup: It's a very busy week; there is a lot of things that have to be done; the players don't have much time to rest. When you look at the U.S. Team, by instance, all 12 players played last week. And obviously we want them to be as fresh as possible. So I understand that, you know, some players might say, listen, you know, my game is good enough, I'm comfortable with my game, I don't need to play 18 holes three days in a row before we start the matches.
So you have to respect that, and I see a lot of common sense if some players don't want to play that. On the other hand, I know that the crowds want to see us play, want to see players practice. But at the end of the day, we are playing to win The Ryder Cup, and we have to think about what is best for our team, and so the crowds, unfortunately I think that they will have to understand that maybe some players won't be playing all 18 holes all three days.
Q. Back to something that Graeme McDowell said. He said today that he felt that this particular group of U.S. players, this team was particularly close, tight knit. I remember in 2004 when Europe trounced the U.S. on U.S. soil, some of the European players, and I believe Bernhard, as well, were of the opinion that American teams just were not as close as the European teams; that they didn't travel together as much, they didn't bond together, they didn't hang out in hotels together. I just wanted to ask you, would you agree that that was once the case? And to say that now you guys are a little bit more disparate because a lot of Europeans are playing on U.S. soil, do you think
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, I can only talk about my team, our team. We have always been close, and even though this time, only three players came on that flight, you could see the camaraderie and friendship already on the golf course today, and even last night when we got all together. In that regard, we are still as close as we were in the past. I don't have any doubts about that.
You should see, you know, the way the guys pull each other on that team room and the jokes that they have between them. So the atmosphere is fantastic. I believe that the team spirit is there and the friendship is as strong as it was in the past.
Q. You spoke about the lack of rough on the golf course, and it's very obvious, looking at it, the lack of rough. The Americans obviously intended that as an advantage to them; do they have that, or does the setup of the course make little or no difference to you guys?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, the golf course is the same for everyone. Having said that, you know, we have strong players on both sides; when you look at them, it's what Davis said yesterday. You have 24 of the best players in the whole world and they can adjust to any situation.
But it doesn't surprise me the way the golf course is set up in the sense that at Valhalla, by instance, it was similar. You could see fairways getting a little bit wider after 280 yards. You know, the first cut was a little bit wider. So I don't know if it favors any team in particular. But what it does, I think, is that players as I said before, will be more aggressive on the golf course.
I think you're going to see a bunch of birdies this week. I think it's going to be a great show in that regard for the crowds. You're going to see holes tied with birdies. You'll have a few holes where anything can happen, like 15, 16, 17; risk and reward holes. I think it's exciting. I think the way the golf course is set up is great.
Q. What are your plans for the team after practice this evening, and do you have any plans on bringing in anyone like a speaker or anyone to help behind the scenes?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, the plan is today is the easiest day in the sense that we don't have many things to do today. It's a different story tomorrow and Thursday. We do have the gala dinner, the Opening Ceremony, so it's going to be quite busy the next two days. So we are going to finish practice today, go back to the hotel, relax a little bit and just get together before dinner, have a little chat regarding how they felt on the golf course; if they have any questions regarding pairings and things like that. That's the idea. I think it's going to be the most relaxing day of the whole week.
And at the moment, we don't have anyone in mind, any speaker or anything like that, to come into the room at the moment.
Q. We all remember Sergio in '99. Has he expressed to you any personal emotions about coming back; maybe it will rekindle some fire for him and find some of that lost emotion and talent?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, we haven't talked about '99 specifically. But I know that he's really happy and pleased and relieved to be in the team as a player, because last time at Celtic Manor, he didn't hit a single shot, and I think that made him realize how important it is to be a player in the team.
I remember his words when we were having a little chat a couple years ago, he said, "If I knew this, I wouldn't have come" in the sense that he wanted to be playing; it was a huge difference from being a player to a non player. So in that regard, obviously this golf course has wonderful memories for him. Both times that he has played here, he has done well, and he feels comfortable on this golf course. So hopefully that will help him to perform well this week.
Q. Ryder Cup Captains, they have had a habit sometimes of using celebrities or special speakers or special figures in the team room to gain some kind of edge over the opposition. Did you make a conscious decision that your captaincy would be free of gimmicks and would rely more on the spontaneous passion that you always demonstrated with Seve?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Not really. I mean, it's something that it has happened the way it has happened. I believe that the players do have a lot of passion for this event. They know what this event is all about. They know it's unique. They have shown that in the past. They have shown to me their will to be part of something really special. And to be honest, you know, I never I've thought about it, but you know, you would have to have a guy really that really knows what the Ryder Cup is to really be to get into the hearts of those players.
So in that regard, I never thought of anyone that could really get to the guys that way.
Q. Going back to the course setup, the fact that you have so many of your players who play in the U.S. regularly, does that almost take away kind of the home field advantage because they know the American courses probably better than they did 10, 15 years ago?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, the home course advantage is not just the course itself. There is other elements that are as important as the golf course, and I'm talking obviously about the crowds. The crowds are going to be huge. I know they are going to be loud and very strong in their support to the U.S. Team.
But going back to the golf course, when you look back, I don't know, 20 years, 25 years ago, obviously we were not all that familiar with these type of set up courses, the speeds on the greens, the firmness of the greens.
And nowadays, because most of those players are playing here regularly, you know, I don't feel that the course itself, the course setup, is such an advantage.
KELLY ELBIN: Captain Olazábal, thank you very much for your time.
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