'The way Moliwood played, Seve and I would have a tough time against them'

Opinion

Jose Maria Olazabal on why Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood made such a good partnership, what it is about the Spaniards that makes them tick in the Ryder Cup, and why Ian Poulter can be compared to Seve

Spain’s contribution to the Ryder Cup is a phenomenal one. We have had 11 Spaniards representing Europe over the years, starting with Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido in 1979, and now we have Sergio Garcia as the record points’ scorer from either side in the competition.

In amongst it all, with seven appearances and part of the greatest ever partnership, is Jose Maria Olazabal. Or, to use his Basque diminutive, Chema.

Olazabal’s dealings with the Ryder Cup are well decorated – the Seve collaboration brought an incredible 11 wins and two halves from 15 outings – and his final tally read P31 W18 L8 H5. He signed off his own Ryder Cup career with a sublime 3-0-0 at the K Club, seven years after his previous appearance at Brookline, where a different version of the Spanish Armada, alongside Garcia, produced two fourball successes. His final appearance saw him beat Phil Mickelson 2&1.

So what makes the Spaniards tick so well in the matches?

“I think in Spain our personalities are such that we like to interact with other people and in that regard a team event is perfect for us,” Olazabal explains.

“I believe that in the past for Seve, for myself, and for all of us that it was just a way to prove that not just Spanish players but European players were good enough to compete against the Americans.

“The Ryder Cup is an event where you can actually prove that to the rest of the world and I think that motivated us in a special way to perform better and find something special.”

Jose Maria Olazabal

For all the question marks over Garcia’s inclusion this time around, and there were plenty, the 38-year-old added three more points to his haul edge past Sir Nick on 25.5, the captain who labelled him “useless” in 2008.

And, despite the 14-year age gap, Olazabal and Garcia’s relationship has always been a close one.

“Sergio is very open. Even from when he was young, he was always asking questions about different situations or trying to feedback from us regarding what to do and when to do it on the course. So, in that regard that he was eager to learn.

“He’s a wonderful man, but especially during Ryder Cup week. He transforms himself, he’s a different person at the Ryder Cup. Sometimes when he’s playing on his own he might miss a shot, then you will see his shoulders drop – but that’s not the case at the Ryder Cup. He’s always so positive, so energetic and he brings so much to the team – not just his game but his personality transfers to the rest of the team. And in that regard, he’s a great asset.”

But, for all the talk of Garcia, both Europe’s youngest ever player and now the most prolific, he was overshadowed by a rookie from Southport and a previously winless Italian. Le Golf National will always be remembered for the creation of ‘Moliwood‘. Even Seve and Olly never managed a perfect four-from-four over the first two days.

“The way they performed was extraordinary. They understood each other really well and you could sense that chemistry on the course.

“Francesco had a hugely calming effect on Tommy. And I tell you what, the way ‘Moliwood’ played this time around, Seve and I would have a tough time against them. Let’s put it that way.”

Poulter and Olazabal

The other lingering image from Le Golf National was of Ian Poulter, like Garcia a wildcard, slipping into a postman fancy-dress costume as the celebrations began to rev up on Sunday. If anyone knows what the Englishman brings to the competition, it is Olazabal. Cue memories of Poulter’s bulging eyes at Medinah.

“Everything changed Saturday afternoon with Ian’s reaction, the way he finished the match and the way he celebrated it, turning around and looking at the whole team beside the green on 18. He inspired the rest of the team and built the spark that you need, that belief to turn things around.

“That meeting on Saturday evening was an easy one. I looked at every player straight in the eye and I could sense that they were actually eager to go out there the following day and get it done. But it was clear the mentality changed completely because of what happened on Saturday afternoon with Poulter.

“It was one of the first events he went to see as a youngster. You can really see his passion, his attitude on the course, the way he expressed himself, his desire, his will, and how much he wanted to just win points. It reminded me a lot of Seve. When everything was finished, we were in the locker room and we embraced and I told him that he resembled Seve that week.

“If you look at his record in individual matches, it’s amazing. He hasn’t lost a match and has only tied one. There are certainly horses for courses, and Ian is one of those with the Ryder Cup. He should play in every Ryder Cup.”

Jose Maria Olazabal was speaking to NCG following the announcement of two new Olazabal Design courses to be created at Costa Navarino in Greece.

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