Among the competitors teeing up in the Spanish Open at Club de Campo in Madrid tomorrow will be a Spanish golfer who cannot count victory in that tournament among the 32 he has accumulated around the world. Aged 53, no one expects José Maria Olazábal to break that particular drought this week.
At the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth a couple of Fridays ago, Olazábal completed his final appearance in that event by comfortably missing the cut. No matter. His farewell was marked by seven of his compatriots who stayed around to watch him finish. Among these was Jon Rahm, the coming star of Spanish golf, who was six months away from being born when ‘Ollie’ won the PGA in 1994, that success coming seven weeks after he had won the Masters Tournament for the first time.
Rahm, Cabrera Bello, Fernandez-Castano, Campillo, Quiros, Otaegui, Elvira.— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) 20 September 2019
The list of Spanish players that waited around to salute a Spanish legend 🇪🇸 pic.twitter.com/MegDtPi391
He turned pro in 1985 having become the only player to win the British Boys’, Youths’ and Amateur titles. (In the latter, he beat Colin Montgomerie in the final.) Although he was a staunch supporter of the European Tour, his individual career highlights came in America – a second Masters in 1999 and, before all of that, an astonishing win by 12 shots at the 1990 World Series of Golf.
But it is probably accurate to say that his golfing career to most will be defined by the Ryder Cup, He made his debut at Muirfield Village, Ohio, in 1987 in partnership with the inimitable Seve Ballesteros. As a foursomes/fourball team, the two Spaniards had a record of 11-2-2 against the United States. Simply, they were the greatest-ever Ryder Cup double-act.
Olazábal played on three winning teams, for the last time in Ireland in 2006, plus the one that retained the Cup for Europe after a tie in 1989. Then in 2012, again saving his best for the States, he was the captain of the European side that came from 10-6 down overnight at Medinah to win the singles and claim the match by a point, his players and the European fans ostentatiously evoking the spirit of the great Seve, who had passed away the previous year. As grand hurrahs go, it was one heck of a way in which to sign off on one of golf’s grandest stages.
Olazábal now plays a limited schedule on the Champions Tour in the States (eight starts in 2019, no top-20 finishes). It remains to be seen for how long he will continue to play; he says so long as he enjoys the competition. It is likely that he will gradually pay more attention to his work as a golf-course architect.
Twenty years ago, I had a meeting with Mark McCormack, the man who founded the International Management Group (IMG). It was a couple of days or so after Olazábal had won that second Masters. As we were finishing up, McCormack said he presumed I was pleased about the outcome at Augusta. I said I was and added “perhaps more than you are, Mark, given that he’s not a client of yours”. He grinned and then said, seriously: “No, I’m pleased for him. All golfers will tell you that they aren’t motivated by making yet more money but there are only two of them who mean it – [Ben] Crenshaw and Olazábal. They are different.”
After Olazábal’s goodbye at Wentworth, another victorious European Ryder Cup captain, Thomas Bjorn, tweeted in tribute: “The greatest gentleman of them all.” Which was a nice thing to say. And true. José Maria has been one of the good guys of pro golf. On second thoughts, make that one of the great ones.
You can follow Robert Green on Twitter @robrtgreen and enjoy his other blog f-factors.com plus you can read more by him on golf at robertgreengolf.com