It’s quite a skill but Jose Maria Olazabal remains as uncomplicated and approachable these days as he has been throughout his career. He first played at Augusta in 1985 after beating Colin Montgomerie 5&4 in the 1984 Amateur at Formby.
This year will be his 30th trip down Magnolia Lane and also the 20th and 25th anniversary of his two Masters victories. There was a period over 10 years where he had the two wins, one missed cut and his worst finish otherwise was a tie for 14th.
What is it about your game that was so obviously well suited to Augusta?
The first time I went there in 1985 as an amateur the course was not that long and the fairways were wide open so the short game was crucial. Your whole game had to be sharp – perhaps except driving – but you needed a lot of skill and touch around the green.
And that’s what I had, I was never a long or straight hitter but the rest of the game was there. From the very beginning I felt really comfortable, and Seve helped with my comfort. He always said: “Jose, I think this course suits your game really well and, sooner or later, you’re going to have your chances to win this event.”
What were the standout moments from your win in 1994?
I had been close in 1991, I was playing in the second-to-last group and we were all tied for the lead. I was on the 18th tee when Woosie and Tom Watson were playing the 17th and then I made a bogey on 18.
That gave me a lot of confidence that sooner or later I was going to have another chance to win a major.
I was obviously very nervous before I teed off on Sunday but, after I’d hit the first tee shot, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. I was very calm.
When I’d imagined myself winning a major I’d always assumed it was going to be an explosion of joy. But when I actually did win the tournament, it was more a sense of relief. I didn’t enjoy the whole process of winning the 1994 Masters that much.
Maybe the key moment that Sunday was the putt I holed on 15 to keep me a couple of shots ahead. Tom Lehman had a great chance right after me from nine feet and just missed.
You spent a miserable couple of years with arthritis in 1995-96, how did you stay positive throughout that?
I remained strong for a while but obviously during that two-year process there were big lows to endure when the pain was so bad that I couldn’t walk at all and I had to lie on the couch all day.
It was especially hard to see your peers on the TV playing and thinking you should be out there with them. Those moments were really difficult but luckily for me my family was there with me. They supported me through the whole process and I learnt a lot in that time.
I learned to appreciate the small things in life, being able to wake up with no pain, do whatever you want to do, practise, stay with friends, go and have dinner with them, you learn to appreciate all these things. It gives you a different view of golf too. Up to then golf was the only thing in my life, pretty much, but it made me realise there are other things in life more important and I think that helped.
So how different then was the 1999 victory?
I really enjoyed every step that I took over those four days. That was because of what I went through during those two years. I enjoyed the crowds, the weather, the course, the atmosphere and just being able to be part of it.
An example was on 13 when I was playing with Greg Norman. I pushed my tee shot so I had to lay up with my second and hit my third to about 15 feet. Greg hit a wonderful tee shot, a wonderful second and made his putt from 40 feet – the crowd went crazy, they started clapping and yelling. Believe it or not, when that happened, I told myself that there was nothing better than that in golf.
In that moment, instead of thinking, “Oh my God, he eagled the hole! I mean, he’s going to catch me!”, I thought, you know, it doesn’t get any better than this. And I think that was because of what I went through with my injuries, that my frame of mind was so different. I enjoyed it so much more the second time around.
Jose Maria Olazabal was speaking to NCG following the announcement of two new Olazabal Design courses to be created at Costa Navarino in Greece.