To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, some of The European Tour’s leading lights have recounted their favourite memories from down the years…
Having suffered with injury in the middle of the decade, one which looked like possibly curtailing his career, José María Olazábal proved his undoubted class once again in 1998 en route to a 17th European Tour victory at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
In doing so he became the second Spaniard to win the title at Emirates Golf Club, following on from his great friend Seve Ballesteros, who won the event in 1992 by three shots from Australia’s Stephen Allan.
That week in February could have turned out very differently for Olazábal, however, with the Spaniard having suffered with illness in the build-up to the tournament and even contemplated withdrawing.
“Well, it was a strange week I have to say,” said the two-time Masters Champion. “I was feeling really sick early in the week and I had to see the doctor on the first tournament day, the Thursday.
“They recommended me not to play as I had a high temperature and it was very hot out there and they feared I might collapse on the golf course.
“But I went out there, took it easy, and I remember the last day was very windy. I was a couple of shots behind, I think, and I managed to win the tournament.
“I liked the golf course here straight away, it was not a long course in those days, not as long as it is now. It was a course where you had to shape your shots, with reachable par fives as well as par threes that were quite tough, but it was the right combination.”
As with many golfers who recall coming to the event in those earlier days, it was the shock of seeing a golf course in the middle of the desert that really resonated with the man affectionately known as “Olly”.
Once an expanse of green amongst the sand, the Emirates GC has since been surrounded by skyscrapers and motorways, but Olazábal remembers the early years fondly.
“We were kind of shocked, seeing the golf course here in the middle of the desert,” said the man who led the European Team to success at Medinah as The 2012 Ryder Cup Captain.
“We stayed at the Jebel Ali Hotel and there was nothing in between there and the golf course. There was just a beautiful road, and sometimes you could see some camels running around and that was it, there was nothing at all. But obviously, a lot has changed since then.
“It is hard to believe how much it has changed. First there was nothing and now look at the place. It’s full of modern buildings, and in the past off some tees you were aiming at a certain palm tree, and now you aim for the tall buildings.”
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the tournament this week, Olazábal took part in a Champions Challenge on Tuesday that saw all 20 Omega Dubai Desert Classic winners return to play in a one-off stroke play event.
Invited to take part in place of his father, Javier Ballesteros played alongside compatriot Miguel Angel Jiménez, who won here in 2010, and his father’s friend Olazábal.
“To play with Javier, Seve’s son, it was a real special moment,” said the 22-time European Tour winner. “It would have been nice to have Seve here, but we have his son and it was nice.”
Olazábal will play the opening two rounds this week in the company of young Dane Thorbjørn Olesen and Sweden’s Robert Karlsson.