Ryder Cup: Jose Maria Olazabal removes the stress from naming cup wildcards

IT has often been claimed that, in Ryder Cup years, the Sunday of the Johnnie Walker Championship is one of the most eagerly-awaited days of the golf season, the drama at Gleneagles having been intensified by the fact the European wildcards were named immediately afterwards.

Edoardo Molinari’s victory in Perthshire in 2010 will, admittedly, live long in the memory after the Italian birdied the final three holes on the PGA Centenary Course to claim the title and also earn one of the spots being handed out by Colin Montgomerie.

The truth of the matter, though, is that for most people it was a day to dread, which is why little or no dissent will be shown in the wake of Jose Maria Olazabal, this year’s European captain, revealing yesterday that he will be delaying the announcement of his wildcard picks by a day – until the Monday.

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It stems from Montgomerie finding himself in a ludicrous situation two years ago, when he had to sit himself down in front of a live global audience on Sky Sports to announce the three players he’d picked for the match at Celtic Manor in Wales.

The Scot had already found himself in a corner due to the fact he didn’t have enough wildcards to go around, what with the likes of Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington and Justin Rose all having failed to secure automatic qualification. What made it even worse was that none of the quartet were at Gleneagles, having all decided to play instead in The Barclays, the opening event on the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup in America.

Due to the time difference, Monty found himself first having to make his final decision and then make that public while some of those players were out on the golf course and the consequences were perhaps inevitable.

Casey, in particular, took the hump, no doubt due mainly to being overlooked in favour of Donald, Harrington and Molinari but also because of the fact he didn’t receive a phone call – though short of being allowed to answer one to his mobile in the final round of an event, that was actually impossible.

Indeed, it took a few months for the Englishman to patch things up with Monty, despite the fact that the pair share the same manager and Casey was at the Scot’s wedding a few years back.

Thankfully, the unfortunate set of circumstances didn’t stop Europe regaining the Ryder Cup, but it’s no surprise that lessons have been learned as the countdown continues to Olazabal leading his side into battle against the Americans at Medinah Country Club at the end of September.

“I think the scenario last time was a delicate one, obviously for the captain and also for the players playing in the States,” said the Spaniard in Abu Dhabi yesterday. “So we are going to wait until whatever happens in the States before we make the decision.

“I think it would be fair for anybody who is playing in the States that might be on the verge of winning that tournament. It would be completely unfair to name those two picks before the guy even tees off.

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“And I would like to have an eye on the players that are hot at that time. If the guy wins that tournament it means that he’s on top of his game, so it would be a good idea to have a thought about him.”

Olazabal won’t be the only person to have some pressure taken off him on 26 August – the final day of this year’s Johnnie Walker Championship.

In the past, no sooner had the winner vacated the interview room than a squad of contractors appeared to take down the black and yellow Johnnie Walker branding and replace it with boards adorning the Ryder Cup logo and a variety of supporting partners.

It was a fraught couple of hours for the European Tour media staff and also the golf writers assigned to covering the double-header.

In the case of Molinari, he was the story on both fronts, but that has not always been the case and, in some English-based newspapers, the tournament itself was almost forgotten the next day. That was a shame for Diageo, which has pumped a lot of money into the event and, at least this year there will be a clean scenario of the tournament finishing one day and the ten automatic places being decided and then, the following day, Olazabal announcing his two wildcards (the Spaniard having already declared that he’s opted for one fewer than Montgomerie). There’s no guarantee this decision will ensure another European victory in the biennial event, but there is no doubting it makes sense for all concerned.

Gracias Jose Maria. Adios to a day from hell.

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