Give Jose Maria Olazabal an A-plus for his decision to name Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley as three of his four vice captains for next month’s Ryder Cup at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club. The decision can only help Europe retain the cup against the Americans.
Olazabal’s decision ensures continuity and harmony in the European team room. Watch for him to further enhance the European cause when he announces his fourth vice captain. Compatriot Miguel Angel Jimenez is widely expected to be that fourth vice captain. He’ll bring a certain joie de vivre to the European team.
Olazabal will delay naming his fourth captain because Jimenez, a four-time Ryder Cupper, can still make the European team with victory in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, the last event that counts toward European points.
Bjorn, Clarke and McGinley served as vice captains under Colin Montgomerie at Celtic Manor two years ago, when Europe won the cup for the ninth time in the past 13 matches. All are experienced Ryder Cup men who have played in a combined 10 Ryder Cups, with nine wins. Each is worthy of the captaincy on his own merit.
Moreover, they constitute a trio of elder European statesmen much admired by the tour’s rank and file. All three serve on the European Tour’s 15-player tournament committee, with Bjorn the current chairman. They will command a lot of respect in the European team room.
“All three are world-class golfers with tremendous experience of playing in the Ryder Cup, which is absolutely invaluable,” Olazabal said.
“Thomas, Darren and Paul share a special spirit and love for the game, and they have the respect and admiration of everyone in golf. Their passion, commitment and desire to win will encourage everyone in the team room. For me it is so important to have guys you know, guys you trust, guys familiar with this contest because the Ryder Cup is unique.
“My own experiences as a vice captain in 2008 and 2010 taught me that you need a lot of help that week. You need eyes, extra eyes to follow the players in the practice rounds to gather as much information as you can.”
Olazabal was a late addition to Montgomerie’s team two years ago. He turned up at Celtic Manor as an ambassador for a brand of coffee-making machines, and Montgomerie wasted no time in giving him a proper job.
However, the Spaniard probably learned more from his experience under Nick Faldo four years ago. Olazabal was the only vice captain whom Faldo named at Valhalla, and it turned out to be disastrous. Faldo was completely outplayed by U.S. captain Paul Azinger that year.
Azinger employed three vice captains – Olin Browne, Ray Floyd and Dave Stockton – and assigned them four players each to watch over, freeing up Azinger to play a more wide-ranging role. It worked so well that Montgomerie and Corey Pavin adopted the strategy last time around, and Olazabal and opposite Davis Love III have continued the trend.
Love has Fred Couples, Mike Hulbert, Jeff Sluman and Scott Verplank as his vice captains. It’s a good team, but it’s debatable whether it’s a better one. My hunch is not. My feeling is that Bjorn & Co. will command more respect in the Euro camp than Love’s quartet will in the U.S. team room.
Olazabal’s nous comes as no surprise. He’s a veteran of seven Ryder Cup matches from 1987 to 2006. Moreover, he served his apprenticeship under Seve Ballesteros, forming a formidable, near unbeatable partnership. There wasn’t much Seve didn’t know about the Ryder Cup and the art of match play. Olazabal learned at the feet of the Master.
So chalk one up for the man affectionately known as “Chema” on the European Tour. He’s off to a winning start.