The Loop

Sirak: Olazabal will bring emotion as captain

January 18, 2011

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- When it comes to emotion, the Ryder Cup team from Europe seems to enter each biennial match with about a 2-up advantage over the side from the United States. While the lads from beyond the pond approach the competition as if it were a week-long fraternity party, the Yanks comes in as if they were on their way to root canal. There always seems to be an enthusiasm edge for Europe.

The announcement Tuesday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship that Jose Maria Olazabal has been chosen to be captain of Europe when the two sides collide at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago next year ensures that Europe will once again come in with an abundance of energy. Want to know the differences between the two teams? Check the pulse of the two captains: Olazabal and David Love III, who will be announced as skipper for the Americans on Thursday.


"This is one of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest challenge of my career," Olazabal, a seven-time Ryder Cup team member, said. "You know how much the Ryder Cup has meant to me. The Ryder Cup will always live in my heart and I have wonderful memories."

Overall, the United States has a 25-11-2 edge, but since 1985 -- the competition before Olazabal and fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros joined to form one of the great two-man teams of all time -- Europe has kept the Cup in nine of the 13 competitions.  The 1987 triumph at Muirfield Village in Ohio was Olazabal's first Ryder Cup and, perhaps not coincidentally, the first time Europe won onAmerican soil.

Last year at Celtic Manor in Wales, Ballesteros, who was too weak from brain cancer to attend, sent inspirational words to the team, which went on to win 14 ¿ to 13 1/2. Count on this: If it is at all possible, Olazabal will have Seve on hand at Medinah to inspire the team.

"I let him know I was to be the next captain and he was delighted," Olazabal said of Ballesteros. "[In 1987] I saw the way Seve played [the Ryder Cup], how much it meant to him and somehow he passed that onto me."  Count on Olazabal passing that feeling onto his players.

George O'Grady, chief executive of the European Tour,  said that once Olazabal had satisfied himself that his form of chronic arthritis was under control "no one else was in the running" for the captaincy. O'Grady said Olazabal was the first unanimous choice by the selection committee since Tony Jacklyn was held over for a fourth term after the 1987 victory at Muirfield.

Olazabal said his style would be to "try to get close to the players and listen to what they say." He said he would play four tournaments in a row beginning this week and then see how often his health would let him compete so as to assess the players first-hand. Olazabal also said that not only would he not ask that the number of captain's picks be increased from the three it was at Celtic Manor, but that he is more likely to go back to two picks, thus restoring the value of being a top-10 player and qualifying for the team automatically.

Like Seve, Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion, possessed the kind of annoyingly brilliant recovery games that drove the Americans crazy in match play. Neither of them was ever out of a hole -- ever. No matter where their ball was, they had the imagination to envision a shot to get to the green and skill to pull it off -- and then they would make the putt.

Europe seems to come into the Ryder Cup with a healthy chip on its shoulders. Somehow, even if they would win 10 of he competitions in a row, there will be a way that Europe will still position itself as the underdog. Deep down, those guys who have decided to compete mostly on the east side of the Atlantic feel there are some -- and maybe this is more among the American fans and media than among the players -- who feel they are ducking what conventional wisdom has always deemed to be the stronger tour in the United States.

While it is difficult to make that case right now -- three of last year's major winners: Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Louis Oosthuizen have been primarily European Tour members -- the Euro side is brilliant at turning perception into reality and then destroying the myth along with the American team. While it is still 20 months until Medinah, the feel lingers that you can set your watch to two facts: Olazabal will bring his team in on an emotional high, and someone he will have convinced the world they are the underdog.

-- Ron Sirak