Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Quiet man Olazabal ready to make a

comeback after rheumatism

José María Olazábal is set to make his comeback to the European Tour after sufficiently recovering from rheumatism
The contrast between Omega Masters winner Miguel Ángel Jiménez and José María Olazábal, admiring the Swiss Alps from a corporate balcony during a rare public appearance, is so pronounced as to be comic.

If you perceive Jiménez’s weakness for Rioja, Havana cigars and late-night espressos as typically Spanish eccentricities, half an hour in the company of Olazábal would put you straight. Here is a man who, both by choice and as a consequence of the rheumatism that has ruined the past decade of his career, has retreated into himself.

Olazábal, who confirms that his chronic back pain is easing, has had plenty of time to savour Spain’s bountiful sporting summer — of which Jiménez’s victory is only the latest chapter. But he does not deny that he has little in common with his compatriot, a celebrated bon vivant.
“Miguel has a very interesting attitude to life,” he says. “I’ve known him for many years and I think it is a great asset for him, because he is 46 and still competitive.

“If things don’t go his way, he doesn’t mess around a lot. He wouldn’t waste even 10 or 15 minutes thinking about it. I wish I could have an approach to life like the one he has, enjoying his cigars and his coffee. But I am just the opposite. I try to have dinner early, to fit in my full amount of rest. I will be trying to go to bed while he is telling me to relax and have a Scotch on the rocks.”

Olazábal loathes interviews to the point where he once left an American journalist stranded outside his front gate, paying no heed to the pleading that ensued.
Here in the serene tranquillity of Crans, the two-time US Masters champion seems more at ease, most likely because he is announcing a comeback. After three years of popping painkillers in industrial quantities, he discloses that he is medication-free and targeting a return in next month’s end-of-season events, at Castellón and Valderrama.
Do not bet against a star turn on the fringes of Europe’s team room at Celtic Manor, either. Olazábal stands as a totem in Ryder Cup folklore, having won 11 of 15 matches in partnership with Seve Ballesteros, and he is still remembered as the innocent bystander in the ‘Battle of Brookline’ in 1999, when a jubilant American team cavorted wildly across his putting line.
“My health condition is much better,” he explains. “It’s true that I feel a little ache in my shoulders still, but the lower back is clear. There has been some serious improvement in the last two to three months, and I’m starting to practise with more intensity. But I’m thinking more towards next year. I’m confident, if the progress continues at the same rate, that I will be fit enough to play properly by then.

“I’m only in physiotherapy now. I’m hitting balls almost every day, up to a maximum of 200, and the discomfort is nothing compared to what it was. Before I was playing in pain, under very strong medication, and I don’t want to do that any longer.”

The work of recuperation has proved an effective escape for Olazábal, after his disappointment at not being chosen as one of Colin Montgomerie’s four Ryder Cup vice-captains.
Recalling his deputising for Nick Faldo in the loss at Valhalla two years ago, he claims, firstly, that he “does not miss it” and, secondly, that any incumbent of the job next month needs a “proximity” to life on tour that he so conspicuously lacks.
Olazabal is content, instead, to draw upon the rich experience he gained alongside Ballesteros, in readiness for his probable Ryder Cup captaincy in two years’ time.
“I learned a lot from Seve,” admits Olazábal, who last saw his compatriot, ailing after four bouts of brain surgery, in March. “He always saw the positive side. To be able to share that with a countryman, with a star of the stature of Seve, was fantastic.”
Such memories remain valid: a rampant Jiménez, watched at every turn by a recovering Olazábal, could yet ensure this Ryder Cup is another one defined by Spanish pride.



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