Olazabal a ‘unanimous’ choice to lead Euros

Jose Maria Olazabal after being named the 2012 European Ryder Cup captain.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – You have to go back a long way to find a European Ryder Cup captain as popular as Jose Maria Olazabal.

How popular? So popular that the tournament committee, the players’ body that decides the Ryder Cup captain, didn’t even have to vote on his nomination.

All Thomas Bjorn, chairman of the tournament committee, had to do was make some phone calls to determine who was the next man to lead Europe in the biennial match.

“I called all of them and said, ‘What do you think?’ It was unanimous,” Bjorn said.

“It started in Wales. Once he entered the (team) room there was a sense that he had the respect of all the players.”

Olazabal was in Wales as one of Colin Montgomerie’s vice captains. He also acted as vice captain to Nick Faldo at Valhalla in 2008.

Although the players wouldn’t admit it publicly, he probably had more respect from the ’08 team than the hapless Faldo.

Olazabal delivered an impassioned speech on the eve of the singles that had the rapt attention of every member of the team.

“Ollie’s the only man who’s ever made me cry in the Ryder Cup,” said Paul Casey, who played with Olazabal in the ’06 Ryder Cup at the K Club and was on the ’08 team at Valhalla. “He made speeches at both matches and I cried both times.

“I think it’s a wonderful decision. He’ll bring passion to the Ryder Cup. He’s got so much respect from the players. I can’t think of anybody who’s more respected than Ollie on the tour, and more well liked. Everybody feels so comfortable around him. Anybody can go up to him and he’ll help them out.”

Ian Poulter played at Valhalla and Wales. He first saw Olazabal play in the Ryder Cup when Poulter was 17 years old and attended the 1993 match at The Belfry.

“Jose Maria Olazabal is the Ryder Cup,” Poulter said. “Simple as that. When I was growing up he was one of two players I thought about when I thought of the Ryder Cup, along with Seve (Ballesteros). I mean they lived and died for the Cup. No one brought as much passion to the match as those two did.

“Ollie lives for the match,” Poulter said. “That was obvious when he was vice captain at Valhalla. That speech he gave the night before the singles had everyone spell-bound. If I didn’t know before then that the match meant so much to him, then I did after that speech.

“It was the same last year. Monty made a smart move by bringing him in as a vice captain. The team was pretty united anyway, but that just bonded us together even more.

“He will be an awesome Ryder Cup captain. Everyone on tour will want to make the team to play for him.”

Tony Jacklin was the last player to be named as unanimous Ryder Cup captain, back in 1983. He served four matches as European captain. Jacklin made the Euros competitive in 1983, when he took Europe within a point of winning at Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. His 1985 captaincy was rubber-stamped on the trip home.

Europe doesn’t have the luxury of long-term captains in the Jacklin mold. There are so many strong candidates to lead the European team nowadays that the captaincy is a one-shot deal only.

“It’s a huge responsibility to be Ryder Cup captain,” Olazabal said. “It’s one of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest challenge, I will have in my career. The Ryder Cup is very special to me.”

Every captain does things a little differently, and Olazabal will be no different. One aspect he is considering changing is the number of picks, from three back to two.

“The more picks you get, the less value I think you give to the players that finish from eight to 10 (on the points list). It would be a shame to tell any of those guys, ‘You’re not in.’ ”

Such logistics will be ironed out with the tournament committee before the European points system begins with the Omega European Masters, Sept. 1-4. What isn’t in doubt are Olazabal’s credentials to lead the next European team.

He’s the players’ choice. By a landslide.

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