Europe’s Ryder Cup celebrations continued today as victorious Captain José María Olazábal was given a hero’s welcome in the Spanish capital of Madrid.
Five days after the “Miracle of Medinah”, Olazábal was greeted by Secretary of State for Sport, Miguel Cardenal, at the National Golf Centre in Madrid, home to the Royal Spanish Golf Federation, where he was "surprised and overwhelmed" by the media attention that the triumph of the "magnificent twelve" had generated.
Olazábal was still cradling Samuel Ryder’s golden chalice as he talked to the Spanish media for the first time since Europe’s record-equaling comeback in Chicago kept The Ryder Cup on this side of the Atlantic.
And the calls of congratulations continue to flood in, from His Majesty King Juan Carlos I on Monday, to fellow sportsmen such as Pau Gasol and Rafa Nadal, and then last night from former FC Barcelona Manager Pep Guardiola.
“I can understand a call from Rafa Nadal, because he plays golf, loves it and knows what the Ryder Cup is all about, but it’s very nice getting calls from people that haven’t got the slightest idea about golf and got hooked up to the TV broadcast and loved it.
“Last night I spoke with Pep Guardiola and he was delighted. He told me he hadn’t experienced anything like that in his whole life and I replied: “Are you kidding me? You won the Champions League!!!” And he told me: “When Kaymer was going to hit the last putt, I finally knew what real pressure is about.”
The Ryder Cup has always been special for Olazábal, and last week further reinforced that view.
“For me the Ryder Cup is a very special event,” he explained. “On a personal level winning a major is also special, but at the end of the day you only celebrate with your caddie, your family and people around you; at the Ryder Cup there are twelve players, four vice-captains, caddies, wives and girlfriends, the whole team… That’s what makes it so special. You cannot see a celebration like that at a Major.
“A lot of feelings come to the surface and are shared by the players. I played my first Ryder Cup in 1987 with Severiano and at that time I didn’t know what it was. Muirfield was an eye-opener for me and all of you know my close relationship with Seve and the unforgettable moments we lived. That’s why the Ryder Cup is so special for me.”
For almost two days the Americans held the upper hand, surging to what looked like an insurmountable 10-4 lead. But two points late on Saturday precipitated a momentum shift that would ultimately lead to the greatest comeback by an away team in the history of this great event.
“Without those two points we hadn’t got any chance on Sunday,” Olazabal' recounted. “The 10-6 gave us a glimmer of hope and those two matches served also as a momentum change. Up to that moment putts didn’t drop for us and no matter how hard our players fought, we were always behind. I could see a difference that evening at the hotel when I looked my players into their eyes. It looked like the scoreboard was tied and everybody, until the very last player, thought we could make it.”
And make it they did as Europe won the top five matches on their way to winning eight and halving one of the 12 singles to win The Ryder Cup by 14 ½ - 13 ½, inspired by the Seve blue clothing of the final day and his silhouette on the sleeves and golf bags.
“You all know much I appreciate Severiano, and it’s the first Ryder Cup Seve is not with us, although I think Seve was around Medinah’s greens on Sunday if you look at the way we chipped and putted. I think it was a good way to feel his presence and a few players, like Justin Rose, told me that they looked at their sleeves when the going got tough and felt better.”
As for what was going through his mind as Martin Kaymer stood over his putt keep The Ryder Cup in European hands, Olazábal said: “I was thinking about the two possibilities. Those are very stressful moments, I thought everything over and saw Martin moving on the green trying to find a break. Then, he addressed the ball, I looked up to the sky and thought: “That’s it. Now it’s the time”. After that I closed my eyes and thought: “Make it, make it!”… and waited to hear the sound, to know if he made it or not. I was paralyzed for a second, waiting for the roar, and after hearing it I look up to the sky, remembered Seve, and that was it.”
For three and a half hours, Olazábal answered questions from the mesmerized media in Madrid, but as the dust settles, what next?
Olazábal will be back in action as a player rather than captain at next week’s Portugal Masters but in his native Spain, Europe’s success could be the inspiration for the next generation.
“I would like to think that it could be a turning point for golf in Spain. What we are doing here in golf is extraordinary. From a long time ago we’ve been producing great players, getting extraordinary achievements, and I hope the Ryder Cup serves as an eye-opener and shows the people that golf is a thrilling, interesting and appealing sport, and that they should try it.”