José María Olazábal will make his first appearance in the Open de España for seven years this week with former Amateur Champion Alex Larrazábal on his bag.
The 2012 European Ryder Cup Captain, with of two Masters titles among his 30 professional victories, has restricted his playing schedule in recent years as he continues to battle arthritis but makes his seventh appearance of the 2011 European Tour season accompanied by his friend and local professional Larrazábal, whose local knowledge of El Prat will no doubt be beneficial.
Olazábal made his very first professional appearance at the 1985 Open de España played at Vallromanas and his best finish in his national Open was tied for second in 1998, one stroke behind Denmark’s Thomas Björn. His last appearance in the tournament, one of the oldest of the continental Opens dating back to 1912, was in 2004.
Past winners include Arnold Palmer (1975), Sir Nick Faldo (1987), Bernhard Langer (1989), Colin Montgomerie (1994), Padraig Harrington (1996), Sergio García (2002), Charl Schwartzel (2007), last year’s champion Alvaro Quiros, and, of course, Olazabal’s good friend Severiano Ballesteros, winner in 1981 at El Prat, 1985 at Vallromanas and 1995 at Club de Campo Villa de Madrid.
Olazábal, who will lead Europe against the United States in The Ryder Cup next year at Medinah Country Club, Chicago, is looking forward to this week’s challenge.
“We shall play the nine holes that run between the pine trees,” he said. “They are shorter but more technical than the other nine, except maybe 17th (which will play as the eighth), a tremendous par four with a tricky green.
“The other nine is more open but the length of the holes makes them tougher. The par fours are long, the par threes very solid and the par fives hard to reach. It makes a good combination - nine strategic holes and nine power holes. The greens are very undulating.
“I came here to practice at the end of last year with Domingo Hospital, Pedro Linhart and Pepo Canonica, but it rained so much that we only managed to play nine holes.”
Regarding his battle to regain fitness, he added: “My health is ok, not a hundred per cent but bearable. It’s certainly no excuse not to play well!”
Olazábal is also looking forward to having Larrazábal on the bag.
“Alex has played competitive golf, he knows the game and he can help me make decisions. He sees the different situations as a player, and that for me is most important. He is reliable, always on time and hardworking. He gives me moral support. He keeps a cool head when things are not working out, and he has a fighting spirit which keeps me going. He always says, “come on… let’s give it a try”. His sense of humour is also a great help on and off the course.”
Barcelona born Alex Larrazábal, 31, grew up playing at El Prat and in 2003 won the Amateur Championship. He started working for Olazábal last season, at the suggestion of Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño.
Larrazábal said: “I learnt from the boss the things you need to do to become great: work and train, work and train. José Maria is a great character and a real fighter... he gives it everything he has, every time. I look forward to working with him at my home course. It’s not a long course, but the greens are deceptive. The second nine are more strategic than the first. Generally speaking, the holes tend to become tougher as you approach the green. The tee shots a friendlier”.
The event will be held this week at Real Club de Golf El Prat, with Reale Seguros as its main sponsor, as well as with the support of Turespaña and Conselleria de Turisme i Esports de la Generalitat de Catalunya.