Only one thing can stop Jose Maria Olazabal from becoming the next European Ryder Cup captain: the man himself.
Europe has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to successors to Colin Montgomerie. Any one of Montgomerie’s vice captains easily could step into the job. Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn or Paul McGinley also would make excellent captains. They will have to take a back seat to Olazabal. Even Montgomerie thinks Olazabal is the man to lead Europe at Medinah in 2012.
“I do hope Jose Maria will be well enough to be the next captain,” Montgomerie said.
Montgomerie was referring to Olazabal’s ongoing problems with rheumatoid arthritis. That affliction is the only thing that could stop Olazabal from taking the job.
The Spaniard not only gets an endorsement from the outgoing captain, but the players, too. Ian Poulter spoke for the entire team when he said: “Ollie will be a brilliant captain. He is hugely respected by the players, by the Tour and the fans.”
Poulter’s right: Olazabal is much loved on this side of the pond. That much was obvious with the reception he received in Wales from players and fans. Unlike Montgomerie, who teeters between Jekyll and Hyde-like tendencies, Olazabal has always carried himself with dignity.
This is a man who has maintained a dignified stance over his involvement in arguably the biggest controversy to mar the Ryder Cup. He was the player left standing on Brookline’s 17th green when Justin Leonard holed that putt in 1999. If any player had a right to feel maligned, it was Olazabal. Yet the Spaniard refused to fan the flames, and has kept his feelings to himself ever since.
A measure of his integrity came at the end of the 1996 season. The Spaniard sat out the entire year due to his arthritis. When a six-figure check arrived at his home in Fuenterrabia, money contractually owed to him by an equipment manufacturer, Olazabal tore up the check. He couldn’t accept the money because he felt he hadn’t earned it.
He acted as Nick Faldo’s assistant two years ago, at Valhalla, and gave an emotional speech to the European team on the eve of the singles. It’s a mark of his eminence – or Faldo’s futility as a captain – that players remember Ollie’s speech more than Faldo’s talks.
The Spaniard deserves his Ryder Cup spot for all of the above, but especially for his part in helping Europe regain parity with the U.S. He and Ballesteros formed the most successful partnership in Ryder Cup history.
So Olazabal is the man for 2012. But it’s a further mark of his integrity that he will not accept the job if he thinks he can’t do it properly.
“We have talked about it but there is just one issue, and that is my health,” Olazabal said. “I would love to do it, but you have to fulfill certain things.
“You need to be close to the players and play with them during the qualifying process, that is why (health) is the only question mark.”
Let’s hope he gets back to full fitness, because there is no better man to lead Europe in Chicago in two years’ time.