Ollie in America
European Star Signals S.O.S.
Jose Maria Olazabal turns 35 on Feb. 5, and the brooding Basque
can hear the clock ticking, so much so that he has put aside his
distaste for strip malls, ranch dressing and kids who sass their
parents to come to the U.S. and play on the PGA Tour. Last week
at the Phoenix Open the two-time Masters champion made his first
start as a member of the Tour and finished 60th. He will enter
five straight tournaments on the West Coast, take a two-week
break back home in Fuenterrabia, Spain, then return for four more
Tour events through the Masters before resuming a more or less
normal schedule on the European tour. If things go well, he
intends to repeat this routine for several years. As the winner
of the '99 Masters, he is exempt on Tour until 2004.
Olazabal offers two reasons for his new schedule. Having won only
four times since '97, when he returned to the sport after a
career-threatening foot injury, he wants to raise his game before
his prime years run out. "I want to improve, and in America I can
test myself against the best players, play the best courses and
work on the best practice facilities," he says in his accented
but proficient English. "If I don't do it now, it's going to be
harder to do it later."
Being in the U.S. for long stretches will also give Olazabal more
access to instructor Butch Harmon, with whom he began working
last year. Considered one of the best players in the game from
150 yards in, Olazabal has long been plagued with a wayward
driver. Under Harmon he's working on getting his arms wider and
higher on his backswing to shift more weight to his right side.
From that position Olazabal doesn't produce the steep downswing
that has always made it difficult for him to hit consistently
straight shots with the longer clubs.
Olazabal denies that his decision to play in this country was
influenced by his recently strained relationship with the
European tour, of which he remains a member. Last year his
manager and close friend, Sergio Gomez, criticized the tour's
hierarchy and orientation as "British-cized," and in December
Olazabal helped lead an unsuccessful effort to get the tour to
open its books to the players.
Olazabal, a bachelor who shares a home with his parents in
Fuenterrabia, says he has no plans to establish a base in the
U.S. He intends to keep living from hotel to hotel, finding
entertainment by going out to movies and watching wildlife shows
on television. His homesickness will be eased by his constant
companions at tournaments--Gomez and his wife, Maite. On the West
Coast swing Olazabal will also have the company of his friend and
fellow Ryder Cupper, Miguel Angel Jimenez, who also joined the
PGA Tour for 2001 and finished 60th in Phoenix.
"We are feeling our way, discovering restaurants we like," says
Olazabal, who, when he can't find Spanish cuisine, favors steak
houses. "Sometimes I bring my own olive oil, but otherwise, so
far, so good."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER With one win in his last 44 starts, Olazabal hopes to elevate his game by playing more in the U.S.
Jack Nicklaus's greatness was on display at the Senior Skins
Game. Rather than back into victory by intentionally missing a
short putt on the final hole, the Olden Bear drilled it into the
cup and then got nipped in sudden death by Hale Irwin. Just win,
baby? Actually, Nicklaus did. When the One Great Scorer comes to
write against his name, it won't only be about the 18 majors but
how he played the game.
What do these golfers have in common?
They won the Phoenix Open and the Tour event at Pebble Beach in
the same year. Oliver accomplished it in 1940, Mangrum in '53,
Middlecoff in '56 and Miller in '74.
Has the USGA been too heavy-handed in its treatment of Arnold
--Based on 3,750 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Should alcohol be banned at Tour events? Vote at
Synonyms for An Amateur Who Gambles with a Pro
ATM, banker, chili, chump, Clyde, donator, duck, easy pickin's,
finger food, fish, flagellant, fresh meat, Jimmy, knows not that
he knows not, local hero, mark, mutt, pigeon, plunger, pushover,
rabbit stew, schmo, solid loser, stiff, turkey, wallet.
Bob Gilder, the winner of the Senior tour's qualifying school in
Orlando last December, makes his first start on the over-50
circuit at this week's Royal Caribbean Classic in Key Biscayne,
Fla. Here's where the five most recent Q school medalists have
finished on the money list the following season.
'00 Mark Hayes $220,465 68th
'99 Allen Doyle $1,911,640 3rd
'98 D. Lundstrom $451,979 38th
'97 Bob Dickson $480,521 32nd
'96 Masaru Amano $226,479 60th