Olazabal picked to lead Euro Ryder Cup team

Jose Maria Olazabal

Jose Maria Olazabal

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Jose Maria Olazabal will captain Europe’s Ryder Cup team when it defends the trophy against the United States at Medinah in 2012.

The 44-year-old Spaniard, who played in seven Ryder Cups and was Europe’s vice captain for the last two matches, was appointed captain Tuesday. He succeeds Colin Montgomerie, who guided Europe to a 14½-13½ victory over the U.S. at Celtic Manor, Wales, in October.

Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion and the unanimous choice among Europe’s leading players, described his appointment as the “proudest moment” of his career.

“This is a huge responsibility to be the next captain, and also, I have to say that it’s I think one of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest challenge I will have in my career, especially at this time of my career,” Olazabal told reporters in Abu Dhabi. “All I can say is that I will try to do the best that I can, try to be close to the players.”

His goal, Olazabal said, would be “of course to keep the cup in our possession.”

Davis Love III is expected to be picked as the next captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team on Thursday. Love was a vice captain in October.

Olazabal has struggled with chronic back problems in recent years, limiting his appearances on tour to just three events in 2010, but said his health was improving.

“My health was the main concern,” he said. “I have to say that in 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.”

An essential requirement of the European Tour is that a captain plays a full tournament schedule in the year of a Ryder Cup to stay close to potential members of the team.

Olazabal also said he would consider changing the automatic qualification system.

“I can assure you that I’m not asking for any extra picks,” he said. “If anything, I’ll try to reduce it back to two. You know, the more picks you get, the less value I think you give to the players that finish from eight to ten.”

Thomas Bjorn, the chairman of the European Tour Tournament Players’ Committee, said Olazabal was the overwhelming choice of the players.

“It was probably the easiest decision we’ve ever have to make for Ryder Cup Captain,” Bjorn said. “There was a general feeling from the whole membership that Jose needed to be the next captain. 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.”

Along with being one of Europe’s most popular players over the years, Olazabal has also been one of the team’s most successful.

Olazabal has an impressive Ryder Cup record, winning 18 and halving five of his 31 matches. He has been on the winning side three times, in 1987, 1997 and 2006. He was also a member of the team that retained the trophy in 1989 with a 14-14 draw against the U.S. at The Belfry.

His partnership with compatriot Seve Ballesteros is the best in the competition’s history. The Spanish pair won 11, halved two and lost two of their 15 matches between 1987-93.

Olazabal was Nick Faldo’s vice-captain when the Americans won in Valhalla in 2008. He was a late addition to Montgomerie’s staff last year.

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