PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Olazabal feels blessed to compete again
World Golf Hall of Famer has battled health issues, makes PGA TOUR Champions debut this week
February 09, 2017
By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM
- February 09, 2017
- Jose Maria Olazabal will be a fan favorite this week at the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, Florida. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
BOCA RATON, Fla. - Jose Maria Olazabal will finally tee it up on the PGA TOUR Champions Friday, one year and five days after his 50th birthday.
But he’s not approaching his debut at the Allianz Championship thinking he has to make up for lost time.
“I consider myself a very fortunate guy,” Olazabal said Thursday. “I've dedicated my life to what I love. I've actually managed to do quite well, so in that regard I don't think that the sport of golf owes me anything or life owes me anything.
“I consider myself a very lucky person in that regard. So I don't have that feeling of making up for lost time at all. Just trying to enjoy as much as I can and to live in the present as much as I can.”
The present means a long-awaited and much-anticipated return to golf after almost four years without the game, and one year after he was eligible to join the PGA TOUR Champions, due to arthritis that made it nearly impossible for him to walk.
Olazabal played twice on the PGA TOUR in 2014 and 2015, both at Augusta National. He has played seven times since 2015 on the European Tour, including the Dubai Desert Classic and Qatar Masters the past two weeks in preparation for his PGA TOUR Champions debut.
For nearly 18 months, until last May, he was home-bound, unable leave except for rare occasions to seek medical attention.
The original diagnosis of arthritis was confirmed but the debilitating strain could not be identified. That made treatment a challenge and identifying the proper medication difficult.
“They couldn't come up with a name for it,” Olazabal said. “They did all kinds of tests. It's not rheumatoid, it's not psoriatic, but they couldn't really put a name on it. I started having anti-inflammatories and then corticoids, but it didn't work out. Then in December of 2015 I went and tried a medication called Anaida. It's one of those modern medications similar to the one that Phil (Mickelson) is taking and we started taking injections once every 15 days and we spread injections at the moment up to 25 days.
“So that's where I stand. That's what actually made the blood tests started to come good let's say about four, five months after I started taking that medication and I was able to do practice, start practicing around May. Obviously I had to start from scratch.”
Olazabal accepts there’s a long way to go but he’s glad simply to have the opportunity.
“I'm coming from a very tough situation with my health the last few years,” Olazabal said. “I've really struggled with it. I haven't been able to practice or play any golf actually. I was feeling under such pain that I couldn't leave home for a year-and-a-half. So my expectations are mainly to stay healthy at the moment and to get in touch with competition.”
Olazabal’s ascendency to the top tier of professional golf and ultimately the World Golf Hall of Fame (2009) began alongside Seve Ballesteros, the legendary Spanish golfer. Olazabal played on the European Ryder Cup team seven times, beginning in 1987, and paired with Ballesteros, the duo was hailed as the Spanish Armada for its dominance over the Americans.
Olazabal had an 18-8-5 career record in the Ryder Cup. In 1987, he and Ballesteros won their first three matches. Two years later, they won three matches and halved another. It was more of the same in 1991 when Olazabal and Ballesteros won their first three matches before gaining a half point in the fourth. In their final Ryder Cup together, the Spaniards were 2-1.
In 2012, Olazabal engineered the biggest comeback in Ryder Cup history as European captain when his side wiped out a 4-point deficit in Sunday singles.
Olazabal’s major breakthrough came at the 1994 Masters where his exquisite short game found the perfect environment to flourish and he proved it again many times with eight top-10 finishes at Augusta National. On the morning of the final round at Augusta National, Ballesteros, a two-time Masters winner himself in 1980 and 1983, sent a message to Olazabal saying his junior partner was the best player in the field and would win the Green Jacket, all he had to do was go out and play like he was capable.
Five years later, he repeated the Masters victory and again flashed his brilliant short game, much of which he learned while studying under Ballesteros and during those Ryder Cup victories.
Olazabal won six times on the PGA TOUR. The last of those victories came at the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines in 2002 where, once again, it was all about his flawless short game.
“His short game is every bit as good as Seve’s, I think, and Seve was pretty amazing,” Bernhard Langer said.
“If (Olazabal) had been heathy he would have won a lot more tournaments. He’s got one of the best putting strokes. He’s a great iron player. The only thing that sometimes held him back was his driver. He was known as maybe not the straightest driver … I think if he remains healthy we’re going to see a lot of good golf from Jose Maria the next few years.”
The absence from golf took an emotional toll on Olazabal.
“Sometimes you realize that golf might be over and it's tough, especially when you love the game so much,” he said. “There were periods where, yes, thinking about that possibility (of never playing again) made the life difficult in a way. But obviously you try to get rid of those thoughts and look at it the most positive way and believe that sooner or later the whole process will end and you will be fit again to play golf again.”