5 Things: Olazabal is unanimous choice

From right, Jose Maria Olazabal, the 2012 European Ryder Cup captain, takes the helm with European Tour stars Paul Casey, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell as they enjoyed a sail on board the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing entry for the 2011 Volvo Ocean Race, as a preview shot for the 2011 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

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 vote on his nomination.

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

“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, as well as in 2008 with Nick Faldo at Valhalla. In both matches, Olazabal delivered impassioned speeches on the eves of singles play that had the full 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 at the ’06 Ryder Cup at The K Club and also was on the ’08 team.

“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 attending the 1993 match at The Belfry. Poulter was 17 at the time.

“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. That was obvious when he was vice captain at Valhalla. That speech he gave the night before the singles had everyone spell-bound. . . . 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.”

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Padraig Harrington

You’d think you’d leave well enough alone after winning three majors in two years. Not Padraig Harrington.

The Irishman has spent six weeks making massive swing changes after the “most frustrating year” of his career.

We’re not talking evolution here, but revolution.

Harrington told the Irish Independent he’s made as many as 20 swing changes. The biggest is what he calls his “swing trigger” – what normal people call the start of the backswing. The Irishman used to start his swing with his hips. This year, he will initiate the swing with his arms.

No one will complain if it triggers a return to winning majors.

ABU DHABI - ROUND 1 UPDATE: Harrington's swing change is working so far

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Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer needs both his hands and feet to count the number of holes-in-ones in his life (19, he reports).

Recently at a U.S. Golf Association event at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Palmer recounted his most infamous “holes-in-one.”

Years ago, after finishing 18 holes, his group retreated to the locker room for a few drinks. Someone proposed they go back out for more. To no surprise, money was involved. “Just a few dimes and nickels,” Palmer said in an innocent voice.

So an eightsome emerged to play Bay Hill’s “Short Turn,” consisting of Nos. 15-18. When they arrived at the 238-yard, par-3 17th, Palmer considered the conditions, grabbed the 2-iron and asked his caddie, TomCat, if he agreed.

“No sir, you hit that 3-iron,” he said.

Palmer relented. When he dumped a 3-iron in the water fronting the green, he glowered at TomCat.

“Frankly, I was pissed,” he recalled.

Palmer then demanded the 2-iron and re-teed. To his opponents, he predicted he was going to knock it in for par.

“They all laughed at me,” he said. “Hell, I would’ve laughed at me too.”

Lo and behold, the ball leapt off Palmer’s 2-iron, rifled straight for the flag, landed 15 feet short of the hole and rolled in for par the hard way. Palmer glanced at TomCat and said, “See, I told you it was a 2-iron.”

“No sir, Mr. Palmer,” said TomCat, “you hit that fat.”

The legend had his audience in stitches.

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Mark Wilson after winning the Sony Open, his third career PGA Tour victory.

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When a sponsored player wins on tour, Ping awards him or her a gold putter.

You might say Mark Wilson predicted his victory at the Sony Open.

Before the tournament, here was Wilson’s Twitter entry: “The 2011 PGA TOUR season starts this week for me. Time to make some extra work for Ping, as in building a new gold putter.”

Wilson was referring to the gold-plated replica putters made by Ping for all golfers who win on major tours around the world.

Want to buy a duplicate of Wilson’s original Karsten Series Anser putter? No problem. They are available at retail for $89.

This putter should not be confused with the newest family of putters from Ping – the Karsten Series 1959. These putters are 2011 models that are appearing at retail.

The original Karsten Series has another prominent user, Martin Kaymer, who won the 2010 PGA Championship with a Karsten Series Anser 2.

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Some players buy cars or houses with winnings, Louis Oosthuizen bought a John Deere tractor.

Golfers and fast cars go together like love and marriage, but golfers and tractors?

Ask British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen to choose between a John Deere and a Ferrari, and the South African has little hesitation. “Definitely a tractor,” Oosthuizen said. “That’s obvious.”

The South African grew up on a farm and still lives on a farm. So what did he treat himself to after winning the game’s oldest major? You guessed it: a brand new tractor.

So how is it going?

“It’s not as fast as a Ferrari but it’s a bit stronger,” he said.

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