But ' Jose Maria Olazabal may be just learning to win.
Winning consistently has always been difficult for Olazabal. Hes played 14 years now and never won the European money ranking. The last two years the Spaniard has played both the U.S. and European tours, and two weeks ago broke through with a victory at San Diego. This week hes at the World Golf Championship'Accenture Match Play Championship, and he looks suspiciously like someone who can win it all.
(Hes) driving the ball fantastic, said Darren Clarke, the Irishman who played a practice round with Olazabal Monday. He missed one fairway yesterday. And he drove it long and straight. If he keeps it in the fairway, hes going to have a great chance because his short game is so good.
Clarke has been a European Tour regular for almost 12 years, and hes seeing an Olazabal hes never seen before. The best Clarke has seen? Yeah ' by a long shot, agreed Clarke.
The difference, frankly, is Olazabals instructor ' Butch Harmon. Olazabal asked Harmon early last year to take a look at the crooked drives and offer some advice. Harmon did, and though its taken Olazabal a year to feel comfortable with the instruction, it finally is becoming ingrained. Somebody had better watch out.
Im playing better, obviously, said Olazabal. Really, its just a matter of technique, changing the swing and thats pretty much it.
Ive been doing NOT the right swing for many years, and its going to take me a while to get rid of those bad habits. I didnt spend much time with (Harmon), and maybe its not the right time to work on your swing when youre playing tournaments and major events. But having said that, I think the results are starting to show up. Hopefully, Ill keep on improving.
Olazabal has been superb in his Ryder Cup appearances, teaming with Seve Ballesteros to form one of the more feared teams in Cup history. He has considerable experience playing this match-play format.
You have to really change your approach to the round, he conceded. Eighteen holes is not much. I mean, anything can happen in 18 holes of match play.
But thats all you have to change, your approach to the round. Youre not trying to beat the golf course. Youre just trying to beat an opponent, and all you have to do is just score one less than he does on every hole.
Given Olazabals recent success, there has been considerable distress that he isnt on the European Ryder Cup team. The teams will be the same as they were in September before the terrorist attacks, and the match will be played this year in September under the same guidelines with the same team members as last year.
Olazabal says that is fine with him.
I had my chance to be, he said, but I missed it, and I have no regrets about it. Nothing I can do about it.
The decisions are done. I think it would be pointless to talk about it anymore. I think it will be to the benefit of the team itself not to talk about this issue at all, concerning anybody. I think that will have to be made clear to everybody.
Olazabals first-round match is against the man who caused the uproar in the last Ryder Cup ' Justin Leonard. Leonard sunk a huge putt on the 17th green that set off a wild American celebration while Olazabal waited patiently to putt.
Olazabal believes, however, that any untoward feelings that may have existed between him and Leonard have long since been patched up.
Everything was resolved a few years ago, said Olazabal. He did what he was supposed to do. I mean, he tried to play his best. Finally, he won. There was nothing wrong with him.
That was just one of the breaks that you must accept, Olazabal says. Golf gives you something many times, but it takes something many times.
I just try to keep as relaxed as possible, he said. But when you are in a situation to win or when you are in a situation under a lot of pressure, the adrenaline is flowing, youre not going to be relaxed. Youre not going to be able to deliver under those circumstances.
Sometimes, you know, that adrenaline helps you to concentrate better and to give your best.