Jose Maria Olazabal (1966 - )
Born Fuenterrabia, Spain, Olazabal is one of the brightest stars of European golf. His rise to the top was dramatic and now back from injury, we look forward to him winning many more Majors.He is well on his way to becoming one the greatest European golfers ever.
Golf was an integral part of Olazabal's childhood. Both his parents worked at the Real Club de San Sebastian. As a child, Olazabal would venture onto the course at dusk and play a few holes. Sneaking in a session of pitching and putting whenever possible, he quickly developed an excellent short game. He recounts one occasion when a member objected to the 'staff' playing the course by contemptuously whacking Olazabal's ball from the green. However, most of the members were keen to encourage him.
Olazabal's first competition victory was the Spanish Under 9 Championship which he won at the age of 7. Sergio Gomez, who was in charge of the junior section at the club, took Olazabal under his wing and helped him to develop his game. He would later become Olazabal's manager. By 13, Olazabal was playing off scratch and went onto to achieve great success as an amateur. Amongst his victories were the Italian and Spanish Amateur Championships in 1983 and the Amateur Championship in 1984.
He turned professional in 1985 and was nominated Rookie of the Year at the end of the season. The following year he won the Swiss Open and the Sanyo Open. The media immediately likened him to Ballesteros. While Ballesteros was a role model, Olazabal was keen to be judged on his own merits rather than be continually compared with Ballesteros. He commented "I have the ability to be as good as Seve, but in a different way" which underlines the fact that both men are brilliant golfers but with different styles.
Olazabal's status was elevated to hero when he made his Ryder Cup debut in 1987. To date, he has played in 4 Ryder Cup squads with undoubtedly more to come. On every occasion, he has put in a decidedly powerful effort.
With the dawn of the 1990s, Olazabal was one of Europe's top golfers and was winning considerable prize money. With over US$1.6m in 1990 alone and topping the world's money list, he diverted his attention to Major tournaments. He nearly won the 1991 US Masters but just lost to Woosnam. Two years later, he was third in the US Open. His first Major victory was the 1994 US Masters. In the same year, he won the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth, the most prestigious on the European PGA tour.
Just as his career was set to move up a gear, he developed a foot injury. The pain was so intense that he would hardly stand for long periods let alone walking the fairways. He surrendered his 1995 Ryder Cup place and didn't compete at all during 1996. Eventually, the problem was diagnosed as a hernia between his vertebrae. After undergoing treatment, which included injections of the strangest concoction, he finally began to make a recovery. He is now back on the tour and though not entirely free of pain, has to rebuild his career. In 1997, he won two tournaments and played on the winning European Ryder Cup squad. 1999 must be the year which confirmed Olazabal's return to form with his second Majors victory - the US Masters.
Olazabal still has a lot to offer golf and we watch his progress with great excitement and anticipation. He will undoubtedly win many more Majors and be remembered as a 'great' golfer.