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 And Another Thing

Another jolly for Ollie...America goes Irish?

You might think that for José Maria Olazábal, 2013 couldn’t compare to the previous year, when he captained the European Ryder Cup team to that extraordinary comeback victory at Medinah. But you would be wrong.

On October 25 in Oviedo, Olazábal was given the 2013 Principe de Asturias Award for Sport. (Think of this as a Spanish-organised equivalent of the Oscars meets the Nobel Prize ceremony; Peter Higgs, of Higgs Boson fame, and his colleagues from the Cern laboratory in Switzerland were the winners of this year’s Technical & Scientific Research Award.) Other recipients in the sports category over the last decade have included world-record middle distance runner Hicham El Guerrouj from Morocco, Formula 1 ace Michael Schumacher from Germany, tennis’s Rafa Nadal and the Spanish World Cup winning football team.

The jury took into consideration the entirety of Olazábal’s record. The 47-year-old from Hondarrabia, near San Sebastian in the Basque country of Northern Spain, had a glittering amateur career – highlighted by winning the Amateur Championship after beating Colin Montgomerie in the final in 1984 – before going on to win the Masters in 1994 and 1999. In between those two triumphs he was ill, pretty much unable to walk, for several months.

Those two titles at Augusta are among the 30 he has captured around the world since turning professional in 1985. The senior tour is a little over two years away.

To many golf fans, it is for his role in the Ryder Cup that Olazábal is most highly regarded. In four consecutive matches from 1987, he was the playing partner of his great compatriot, Seve Ballesteros. They achieved a phenomenal winning record of 11-2-2 in Ryder Cup team play. Olazábal was on the winning team when Ballesteros was captain in Spain in 1997 and again, for the last time as a player, in Ireland in 2006. And, of course, Seve’s memory was so evoked on that remarkable Sunday at Medinah.

Seve won the Principe de Asturias Award in 1989. He told Olazábal then: “One day you also will receive this.” The pity is that Seve was not alive to witness the accuracy of his prediction.

NOW THAT’S WHAT YOU CALL ‘THINKING OUTSIDE THE box’; taking an American golf tournament to another continent. In October, Golf Digest in the United States ran a story about the PGA of America conducting a feasibility study with a view to holding its USPGA Championship outside America.

“This is an exercise we’re going through, an analysis,” the organisation’s chief executive, Pete Bevacqua explained. “It would need to work for the PGA Tour and it would need to work for PGA Tour players.”

The USPGA Championship is committed to American venues until 2019, so 2020 is the earliest possible date for anything to happen. Inevitably, the chief assumption was that such a move might presage the first major championship to be held in Asia, especially China. But then Rory McIlroy revealed that he had had conversation with Bevacqua and Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America, and that Ireland – specifically Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland – was under consideration.

For the PGA of America, the idea in principle surely has a lot to commend it. They might not like it but the fact is that the USPGA is the fourth of the four majors in terms of prestige, not just the order in which it’s played. (They have now even given up their USPGA tag-line of ‘Glory’s Last Shot’ after complaints from the PGA Tour, which figures the FedEx Cup, which comes later in the season, also matters.) Anyhow, taking the USPGA overseas would mean it would no longer be permanently destined to be the third-best major in America.

And as Graeme McDowell said: “I think to have three of the major championships in America, given the global nature of the game nowadays, is a little bit too heavy-weighted.” It’s because of the way the game has evolved that things are the way they are, but – to rephrase Tiger Woods’ favourite saying – it doesn’t have to be what it is.

For the R&A in St Andrews, the USPGA Championship at Royal Portrush might be a godsend. They’d no longer have to worry about finding ways of not taking the Open there for the first time since the one and only scheduling in Ulster, in 1951.

Furthermore, the prospect of trouble during the summer marching season might reasonably be expected to be less inflamed by a golf tournament put on by Americans rather than the British. And soon to enter the logistical equation is golf in the Olympic Games, which will happen in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and then onwards. As things stand, date-wise, the USPGA feels too close to the Open Championship. With the Olympics being a July/August occasion, it might soon feel even more cramped. Maybe within ten years we can expect the fourth major of the year sometimes to be taking place in the autumn as well as not in the States.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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