Many left scratching heads at Olazabal decisions on Friday


JOSE-MARIA OLAZABAL:They did it in the end but PHILIP REIDis left wondering at some of the decisions by Europe team captain Jose Maria Olazabal

IN THE run-up, the conventional wisdom was that the captaincy of José Maria Olazabal would be defined by passion. After all, his playing record – which gave him a 67 per cent win record, second behind only Sergio Garcia coming into Medinah – spoke for itself but it was his tie-up with Seve Ballesteros, part of the so-called ‘Spanish Armada’, which revolutionised the match and turned it into an actual contest rather than an exhibition for the Americans

As Luke Donald, the world number three, put it in anticipating Olazabal’s captaincy, “(he’s) so much passion, so much of that Spanish flair. Obviously, his pairing with Seve Ballesteros was probably one of the greatest pairings in Ryder Cup history. There was just an amazing flair for getting it done, short game wizards those two were. Ollie will bring a lot of passion to this Ryder Cup.”

Except, somewhere, before yesterday, it went missing.

On Saturday, Graeme McDowell talked of Olazabal giving the team a rollicking akin to the one Alex Ferguson – hairdryers et al – gave in a Manchester United dressingroom. That private ear-bashing, or motivational speech, to the players was at odds with his on-course presence which was very much reserved. If we expected Ollie to relive the antics of Ballesteros’s captaincy when he whizzed around Valderrama in electric carts, we were sorely disappointed.

In truth, it is the players – not the captain – who carry the clubs and who play the shots. And, as such, the ultimate responsibility for any actions lies with those who execute tee-shots, who play approaches and, most critically of all, stand over a left-to-right breaking putt on fast greens.

Yet, some of Olazabal’s actions left many scratching their heads. Why was Ian Poulter benched for Friday’s session of fourballs? Why, too, were Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald rested for that same session? When the pairings were announced, it beggared belief. The result of that second session of play – a 3-1 win to the USA – utterly changed the complexion of the match. Europe were always facing an uphill battle thereafter.

Olazabal – even on Saturday – stubbornly stood by his decision not to play Poulter in Friday’s fourballs. “I sit him down because I want to play everyone (on Friday and in case things didn’t go our way. I knew I had all those top players fresh for (Saturday’s) sessions. So, it worked out okay.”

On another front, his opposite number stole a march. Davis Love III had the greens cut and rolled – unbeknownst to the Europeans – between the foursomes and the fourball. The result was that the speed of the greens increased from 11 on the stimpmetre to 13, viciously fast, which played into the hands of the Americans. They were the ones who got momentum.

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