Jose Maria Olazabal Exclusive: Forget majors, nothing beats the Ryder Cup (but I promise not to dance again!)
21:30 GMT, 25 September 2012
21:30 GMT, 25 September 2012
Jose Maria Olazabal cried when the United States mounted a comeback to win the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline. He went back to the changing room and wept, although not before taking his frustration out on his locker.
He has also cried at times of triumph. Ryder Cup locker rooms have been awash with his tears down the years.
'You are playing with another 11 players that the rest of the year you are trying to beat,' he says, 'and in that week you try to break all the walls that are in between you.
Spanish highs: Jose Maria Olazabal
struts his stuff in 1987
'The camaraderie you experience, that is something that lasts a lifetime. I remember crying in the locker room, players being so happy. It's the most beautiful moment in time.'
Europe's captain played in seven Ryder Cups and could hardly have made a more auspicious debut, teaming up with Seve Ballesteros at Muirfield Village, Ohio, in 1987 to win three matches out of four.
Tribute: The Seve bag to inspire Europe at Medinah
Europe were on their way to a 15-13 victory, the first time the USA had lost on home soil, and Olazabal marked the occasion with a joyous, impromptu dance on the 18th green. Alas, he regrets it.
'The more I look at it, the more ashamed I am of myself,' he says. 'It was one of those moments, I let it go.'
He was on the receiving end of a loss of control at Brookline when, in his singles match with Justin Leonard, the Americans celebrated their man's birdie putt on the 17th by trampling over the line of a putt for a half that Olazabal had yet to attempt. It was inexcusable yet, characteristically, Olazabal tries to excuse it.
'Victory was pretty much a walk in the park (for Europe, four points ahead before the singles). It seemed like the Cup was over and those emotions came afloat in that moment. When you look at it, it's understandable.'
He does not, however, defend the hostility of the crowd that week, so feverishly personal that Colin Montgomerie's 70-year-old father had to leave the course.
'I think when Payne Stewart said he was ashamed of how the crowds reacted, it says it all,' adds Olazabal.
He hopes the crowds in Chicago this week will be more respectful, but also knows they will be fiercely partisan.
'Chicago loves sport. They wanted to have the Olympics: finally they got the Ryder Cup and it's huge for them. They're going to be loud but (Europe's) players cannot allow that to affect their game.'
Leading the way: The Spaniard chats with Graeme McDowell on Tuesday
He will attempt to insulate them with his own brand of motivation, so heartfelt that those who heard him speak in the team room at Celtic Manor two years ago still talk of how moved they were. He has already warned of the dangers of his players being so emotional that they can't perform, but this is the first Ryder Cup since the death of his beloved compadre Ballesteros and he will invoke his friend's spirit.
'I think that his spirit lives with them and in that regard obviously we're going to have some pictures of Seve and things like that, but I don't think I'm going to need to say any more regarding Seve.'
Victory at Valderrama in 1997, the year of Ballesteros's frenzied captaincy, is the Ryder Cup memory that Olazabal cites as his most precious. It represented the revival of a career he had feared was over, following the onset of what was at first diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis in his feet.
Driving force: Olazabal revived his career after he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in his feet
'It started in '95, problems with my big toe on my right foot, and it got worse. By August I had to tell captain Bernard Gallacher that I was not going to be able to play Ryder Cup. It got to that point when I had to crawl my way into the loo, you know.'
Remarkably, he recovered to play in three more Ryder Cups and, in 1999, won his second US Masters. However, he insists there is no comparison between winning as an individual and being part of a winning team.
'As a Ryder Cup player, the joy that runs through the room is something that you don't experience as an individual.'
Whether or not he is consumed with that joy at Medinah, the 46-year-old has come a long way since his humble Basque boyhood.
In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports – to be transmitted tomorrow – at the Real Golf Club de San Sebastian, he explains that his parents had been poor tenant farmers who would have faced eviction when the land they worked, owned by a local marquis, was sold to golf-course developers.
But the marquis forced the new owners to find work for his labourers, so Olazabal's father joined the green- keeping staff and his mother mucked in, despite being heavily pregnant with a future Ryder Cup captain.
Olazabal said: 'They finished the first nine holes and somebody had to put the flags on those holes. My mum was the one and funnily enough I was born the following day. 'My parents don't value much what I've achieved (in golf),' he adds.
'They think there are more important things in life than success on the course.'
He believes it, too. But on Friday in Chicago, it might not show.
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