18 January 2011
An Interview With:
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL
SCOTT CROCKETT: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your attendance in what is not only a special day for The European Tour, but also a very special day for The Ryder Cup.
Before we begin proceedings officially, I'd like to introduce today's top table to you. On my far left, from The European Tour is Richard Hills, who is our Ryder Cup Director. Next to Richard is Thomas Björn, a ten time winner on The European Tour and a man who has played in two winning European Ryder Cup teams. Outside the ropes, of course, Thomas is the much respected chairman of The European Tour Tournament Committee. On my immediate left, Mr. George O'Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour, while the man in the middle, appropriately is the man who is central to today's proceedings, from Spain, José Maria Olazábal.
A 23 time winner on The European Tour, José Maria has, of course, also played in seven European Ryder Cup teams, being on the winning side on three occasions. Before we hear from José Maria himself, I'd like to ask George O'Grady to start today's proceedings for us.
George, thank you.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Thank you, Scott, and thank you everyone here today, ladies and gentlemen, for joining us for this very important announcement for, I think the game of golf in Europe; that one man who is well enough, or feels he is well enough medically to take on this very arduous role.
Before moving to introduce him, perhaps I can just thank the Abu Dhabi Tourist Authority and HSBC for welcoming us here to the lovely country at the start of this important week, an important swing on The European Tour.
At the same time we pay tribute to Colin Montgomerie, such a successful and tremendous outgoing captain. I think with Thomas here, it would be right for me to introduce him because he has canvassed the Tournament Committee, and, in fact, so much of The European Tour Membership to gain what has been a unanimous decision across by the whole might of the Tour, completely endorsed by The European Tour Board, and completely endorsed by Ryder Cup Europe and that policy board, as well.
Perhaps before I introduce José Maria; Thomas, if you would like to say one word about how your fellow colleagues view our incoming captain.
THOMAS BJÖRN: Well, first, it was certainly coming out of The Ryder Cup in Wales, also The Ryder Cup in Ireland, there was a great feeling that there was one man that needed to do the job and sooner rather than later.
Speaking to players on Tour and speaking to committee members, it was probably the easiest decision I've ever have to make for Ryder Cup Captain. And it's a little bit out of the way we normally do it. We normally do it at a committee meeting.
But there was a general feeling from the whole Membership that José needed to be the next captain. And with the approval of Richard and George, I took time out after the Dubai World Championship to speak to all of the members of the committee and unanimously, they all pointed towards one man; and therefore, we felt it was right that we did it as soon as possible. We didn't feel that we needed to sit in a committee meeting and discuss this, because it was the one man that everybody on this tour wanted to be captain.
So it was an easy decision and I think there's a lot of credit to the person that's sitting to my right that every player on this tour feels that this is the right decision.
Highly respected from his fellow professionals, his determination in Ryder Cups, that goes back to the 80s; I think in today's game, he is probably one of the very few players that all of the players on Tour associate with what The Ryder Cup is all about, the passion and the determination.
So we are very proud as players to stand behind this captain and look forward to seeing him going to Medinah and keep the trophy on this side of the Atlantic.
SCOTT CROCKETT: Thank you very much, Thomas, a fantastic introduction José Maria, just give us your own thoughts.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Let me just introduce the 2012 Ryder Cup Captain for Europe, José Maria Olazábal.
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Thank you very much, George, and thank you for your nice words, Thomas.
Obviously you all know how much The Ryder Cup has meant to me in all my career. I dedicated 25 years of my life as a professional golfer. I spent seven well, I played seven Ryder Cups and as I said, The Ryder Cup is welded in my heart. I do have wonderful memories. It has meant, as I said, so much to me.
And in that regard, all I can say is that it's a huge responsibility to be the next captain, and also, I have to say that it's I think one of the biggest challenge, if not the biggest challenge I will have in my career, especially at this time of my career.
All I can say is that I will try to do the best that I can, try to be close to the players, and well, all I can do is thank George, Thomas and The European Tour for choosing me as the next captain.
SCOTT CROCKETT: José Maria, thank you very much for those opening words.
Q. Few people are more passionate with Ryder Cup than you; why does it mean so much to you?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, you have to go back to '87, actually, my first Ryder Cup. I didn't know what The Ryder Cup was at that time. And when I went there to Muirfield Village with the European Team, I had a chance to play with Seve, and you know, I saw the way Seve played on the golf course how much it meant to him. Somehow he passed that attitude to me and the amount of people that was there watching the matches, and on top of that, we managed to win there, and it was the first time we won on American soil.
The whole experience was so unique that it really sticks in my mind still today. It's been like that pretty much all of the years that I've played The Ryder Cup.
Q. The last time that we spoke about your potential captaincy, you were still concerned that your health issues might stop you from playing with the players in the reason up to the event. Tell us about that situation now.
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, that was the main concern. Regarding that, I have to say that the last couple of months, since I played Valderrama last year, I felt a noticeable improvement in my health condition and good health prevailing, there should be no problem. That's why I made that point to Thomas before taking any steps forward, and, you know, as I said, I'm feeling much better and that's the reason why I said yes.
Q. Colin Montgomerie feels that the qualification system needs a slight tweak to avoid what he faced last time in order to leave out the likes of Paul Casey and Justin Rose; are you going to request a review of the process?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: We are going to sit down and chat about it. But certainly there is obviously I have a couple of things in my mind. But I don't think I will change it drastically, anyways. Monty had three picks; obviously as I said, we have to sit down with the committee and we tried to change a couple of things but no, sir drastically as I said.
Q. You were alongside Monty at Celtic Manor and also alongside Nick Faldo, who was much criticised for his captaincy at Valhalla; what did you learn from those two occasions?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: That everything is black or white (smiling).
Well, obviously, well, I have my point of view on now to treat the players. I always try to be close to the players. That's what I'm going to try to do. I'm going to try to be close to the players, and hear what they say. Try to make their lives as comfortable as possible and as easy as possible in that regard.
But we all know that you need to have a good relationship with the players. So everybody feels comfortable and ready to play.
Q. How many events will you play this year on The European Tour, and next year? What is your planned schedule?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, I can tell you that I'm going to play these four weeks in a row. I'm going to put myself to the test, and I will have a better where I stand after these four weeks. As I said, I will try to be as close as possible to the players and in that regard, I will try to play as much as I can. That much I can say.
Q. You say that this will be the biggest one of the biggest, if not the biggest of your career. What about getting your health back? That was an enormous challenge, as well.
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: It was a challenge but what you can do about it is try to be positive and that's it. You have to; there is not much you can do about it to be honest.
I went to see the best doctors; at the end of the day, they said that I had to be patient and just wait, and that's what I did. I cannot do much about it. Each case scenario is different. I am the one that will take the decisions even though the players will be hitting the shots.
Q. Could you say why it's the biggest challenge in your career, and also, whether you have spoken to Seve?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, why? Especially at this time of my life, I've had a pretty solid professional career, but as I said, The Ryder Cup is very special to me. To be the captain of the 2012 Ryder Cup there is only one goal for it, and I will try to be as successful as possible, and you know, once you have only one shot at it. One, that's it. That's why it's a big challenge.
If I have spoken to Seve? Yes, I have. I let him know that I was going to be the next captain, and he was delighted. We joked about a couple of things on the phone, maybe applying some of his theories of '97, separating the beds and things like that. (Laughter). We had a good time, yeah.
Q. You said you were going to sit down and chat about various things that may be tweaked in the arrangements leading up to the match. If you don't get an extra pick and have four, do you think you'll be at a disadvantage compared to the United States Captain?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, I can assure you that I'm not asking for any extra picks. I'm going to be clear on that straightaway. If anything, I'll try to reduce it back to two, but we'll have to sit down and talk about it.
I'm not asking any extra picks for sure.
Q. And why would you consider reducing it to two?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, to make it to be honest, to make it fair on the points system, on the playing system. You know, the more picks you get, well, the less value I think you give to the players that finish from eight to ten, and I think to finish in the Top 10, either to finish in the Top 10, you have to play great golf, and it was proven the last time. And to make the Top 10, you know, five through the World Rankings and four through The European Tour Rankings, you need to have an extremely great year. And it would be a shame to tell any of those guys, you're not in.
Q. World No. 1 Lee Westwood has already had some nice things to say about you. Would you say you have a good rapport with the European players?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, it's not so much what I have to say about it; it's the players that have to say. I think my relationship through these years has been a good one with most of the players without a doubt.
I've tried to respect the game and the players, tried to be as helpful as possible, also, with the players, and in that regard, I believe that I do have that respect from the players. But obviously it's up to them to say.
Q. How difficult is it to be the quote, unquote away team during The Ryder Cup? You've played many of them?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Obviously it's easier when you're playing on home soil, without a doubt. Whenever we play in the States, obviously the golf course is set up in favour of the U.S. Team, the same way we do in Europe. Whenever we play in Europe, we try to set up the course in a way that we favour our conditions.
You know, crowds in the States are loud. All I can say is that I'm hoping for them to be fair. That's all I can ask for. But I'm pretty sure that my players will be prepared to cope with that situation. But as you said, well, I think it's more difficult to play away.
Q. Did Wales in any way intensify your resolve to be captain? Obviously you've got a rich history with the tournament, but you weren't involved, and then when Monty dragged you into in, did that ram home how much you wanted the position?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: No, that did not change. As I said, The Ryder Cup has been very important to me. It's very close to my heart, and I always wanted to be in this situation. It was just a matter of time and health issues. That didn't change to be honest. I really wanted to be, you know, part of where I am now.
Q. At the risk of embarrassing José Maria, what are the personal qualities that you all felt so strongly about and that made José Maria the obvious choice?
THOMAS BJÖRN: Well I think there are a lot of things that come into the equation when you start thinking about a captain.
But I think the passion for The Ryder Cup, the first thing that springs to mind when you look at José, but also a gentleman that's played the game, and I think he underplays himself a little bit in how he speaks about himself. I think you won't find a more helpful player on this tour, and you won't find a more respected player on this tour through all of the ranks.
We have a lot of different nationalities on the Tour and cultural differences come into play a lot of times. But he is a person, no matter where you are from; I was fortunate myself to play in the 1997 Ryder Cup Team my second year on Tour. And having players like this around you, you can't ask for anymore. The help and the support that I got, and I think every player out here has experienced, from José and also other players.
But José has always been if you ask a question, you always get an answer. And if you need help, you always get the help. And I think that respect that he's built up over the years certainly went through the whole committee, but also through the membership.
I speak to a lot of members on this tour and they all felt very strongly that this had to happen. And so it was easy from my position to get it done, but I also think we all feel proud that we have a captain that is that much respected by the players, and I think that just gives our team a little bit extra when they go into the matches that you have a captain that you feel you can trust and understand.
Q. As far as the committee are concerned, when would you anticipate discussing and deciding what the qualification format will be for the next match?
THOMAS BJÖRN: The discussions are ongoing already with the captain and they will take place with the people that sit on this table and then we will take it to the committee. And we probably won't rush into it. I mean, 2012 is a good bit away.
The qualification system doesn't start till September, so we are a good bit away, and we need to I think everybody needs to understand what we are trying to do. But as we say, gladfully say almost every time we go into a Ryder Cup, we have a very successful system. I think we will be reluctant to change it a lot, but we'll also listen to the captain. And we never really changed it too much. But we'll discuss it and we want to obviously present the best possible team and what the captain thinks is the best possible team.
Q. I know it's early days, but have you thought about vice captains yet?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: No. It's early days, as you say. I didn't have enough time to think about those things. Obviously we are talking about other issues first. As Thomas said, September is still far ahead and The Ryder Cup, a year and a half away. So we have plenty of time to discuss those issues.
Q. In your memory, is this the first time that a unanimous decision has been made regarding the captain of The European Team?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think you'd have to go back to the Tony Jacklin days when if Tony agreed to do it again, it was rubber stamped immediately almost on the Concord coming home and straightaway. But that was in a different era when a captain I think Tony did four matches. Now it's generally agreed that you're captain for one match and one match only. There's so many really good potential captains for the European side.
But the feeling of relief when he said he thinks his illness is conquered sufficiently to allow him to do the job; at that moment, nobody else was in the running.
Q. Another Spaniard who has got a passion for The Ryder Cup, and you all know about him, could not make it to the team last year, talking about Sergio Garcia. He said that he lost a bit of motivation last year. Being a compatriot, and I'm sure you want him to be part of your team next year. What are you going to talk to him to get that fire going again?
JOSÉ MARIA OLAZÁBAL: Well, I don't have to talk to him. I mean, you know, we all know his determination to make the team. It's up to him to get the motivation to play golf again. It's up to him to do so. Obviously I have seen him at the end of the year last year when we played a little tournament at his home golf course and well, I asked the question; are you feeling okay, are you feeling hungry again to play golf.
And he said that he was feeling much better; he can't wait to start the season again. That's the best answer I could get. Now it's just a matter of seeing him develop on the golf course. I truly believe that in the next year and a half, we will see Sergio coming back.
SCOTT CROCKETT: Gentlemen, that I thank you all for your attendance today, and José Maria, it goes without saying, everyone in this room wishes you the best in the next 20 months leading up to Medinah 2012. Thank you.
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