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Olazabal hopes to follow Ballesteros one more time
(Reuters) - Jose Maria Olazabal brings a world of Ryder Cup experience to the upcoming matches at Medinah, but it is his passion for the competition that figures to distinguish the quiet Spaniard as European captain.
The son of a greenskeeper in the harbor town of Hondarribia in the Basque region, Olazabal has won 29 titles around the globe, including a pair of majors, but seemed to come alive most vividly during his 25-year love affair with the Ryder Cup.
"The two Masters wins at Augusta National are the highlight of my playing career but this is my proudest moment," Olazabal, 46, said after being named European Captain.
"When you win, the joy is beyond imagination. You are with 11 other players plus their wives and girlfriends and all the backroom staff and there is nothing to compare.
"The Ryder Cup has been special to me, to my life. It is welded to my heart."
Olazabal played his maiden Ryder Cup on a team that handed the United States their first defeat on home soil at Jack Nicklaus's course at Muirfield Village in 1987 to end a U.S. home winning streak spanning 60 years and 13 Cup matches.
He is a veteran of the 'War on the Shore' in Kiawah Island in 1991, and was the simmering, stone-faced man on the 17th green at Brookline when the U.S. team broke into a wild, premature celebration of victory when he still had a long putt to play that would have prolonged the 1999 Cup competition.
Olazabal is best remembered on the Ryder Cup stage for his partnership with mentor Seve Ballesteros, the man who ignited a dominant era for European golfers and was the spiritual leader of Europe's rise to Ryder Cup supremacy.
The compatriots, who became known by their U.S. rivals as the "Spanish Armada" during their irresistible partnership, became the most successful Ryder Cup tandem ever, combining for 11 wins and two halves from 15 matches.
Overall, Olazabal registered 18 wins and 20-1/2 points to stand fifth on Europe's all-time Ryder Cup points list.
His great friend will not be there for the 39th Cup competition as Ballesteros died last year at 54 after a struggle with cancer. But Ballesteros will certainly be by Olazabal's side in spirit.
"He will deliver the Seve message," former three-time Europe captain Bernard Gallacher told the Press Association.
"Olazabal will carry Seve's torch in there. He will give the Seve speech. It will be very significant, hugely. Olazabal is very proud and passionate."
Olazabal has been an inspiration in his own right.
He won the British Amateur champion at age 18 in 1985 and the next year won the European PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament to join the tour, and in his first year finished second in the Order of Merit behind Ballesteros.
In 1994, he became the second Spaniard to win the Masters, following two green jackets won by Ballesteros, who in 1980 became the first European to win the Masters.
Olazabal lost more than a year of golf in his prime when he was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis in his feet, but came back to win his second Masters in 1999.
The short game wizard, who followed Ballesteros onto the Ryder Cup team, followed him into the Masters' winners circle and followed him into the World Golf Hall of Fame, now follows his great friend as a Ryder Cup captain.
Europe's leader is intent on retaining the Cup won in 2010 at Celtic Manor in Wales and matching the victory claimed by Captain Ballesteros at the 1997 matches in Valderrama, Spain.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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