Olazabal's proudest moment after unanimous call to lead from front

EUROPEAN golf continues to reap the benefits of the seeds sown by Seve Ballesteros more than 30 years ago.

Following the expansion of the Great Britain and Ireland Ryder Cup team to encompass Europe back in the late 1970s the mercurial Spaniard helped turn the tables on the once-dominant United States.

Some stars of the Ballesteros-inspired era of the 1980s and 1990s have gone on to become Ryder Cup-winning captains with Sam Torrance, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Colin Montgomerie all guiding continental Europe to victory in the biennial match.

And it was no surprise yesterday that the line of succession continued when Ballesteros's countryman and former playing partner Jose Maria Olazabal was the man tasked with defending the Samuel Ryder trophy at Medinah, Illinois, in September 2012.

"I let him know that I was going to be the next captain, and he was delighted," said Olazabal, of a conversation he had with a player with whom he forged one of the greatest Ryder Cup pairings.

"We joked about a couple of things on the phone, maybe applying some of his theories of'97, separating the beds and things like that."

As Ballesteros broke new ground by being the first continental player to play on the team in 1979 – alongside Antonio Garrido – so he was the first non-Briton to captain the side in 1997.

Olazabal becomes the third continental European to lead the side.

His selection as the man to succeed Montgomerie following the Scot's triumph at an emotionally-charged Celtic Manor last October was unanimous.

The Ryder Cup committee did not even meet to discuss the appointment.

The seven-time Ryder Cup player is, like the captains who have gone before him in recent years, a proven winner.

He won the US Masters twice and claimed 29 tournament victories worldwide, including four regular US PGA Tour events. He has also played on three victorious Ryder Cup teams spanning 19 years.

He has experienced the highs and lows of the sport's biggest team event, with his three Cup wins.

For the last two matches, the 44-year-old served as vice-captain, first to Nick Faldo in the defeat at Valhalla, then to Montgomerie at Celtic Manor.

The qualities he brings to the role as a person were underlined yesterday by Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, who is the chair of the selection committee.

He talked of Olazabal's passion for the Ryder Cup – think of the dance of delight he performed at Muirfield Village in 1987 – the regard in which he is held by his fellow players, and his accessibility to fellow continental players who might be rookies.

When Montgomerie plucked him from a marketing role at Celtic Manor to assume the responsibilities of a vice-captain, Olazabal helped coax Italian rookies Edoardo and Francesco Molinari and Swede Peter Hanson into contributing vital points and half-points to the European cause.

Although unassuming on the course, Olazabal is also one of the loudest voices in the team room, which is so often where a united Europe have gained a psychological advantage to take out onto the course.

At Valhalla, it was he who delivered the inspirational speeches and not captain Faldo.

The only question marks remain over his health. Olazabal has already fought back from a foot injury to win a second green jacket, but in recent years has suffered from rheumatism and only competed three times last year.

However, defiantly and dutifully despite his continuing battle with illness, he plans to play more frequently over the next 20 months to retain the close bond and links with the players he may be captaining at Medinah, a relationship that is so often regarded as crucial for a non-playing captain.

Speaking yesterday in Abu Dhabi, where this week's tournament marks the first of four in the gulf region – of which Olazabal will contest all four – the Spaniard described his emotions at being named European captain.

"The two Masters wins at Augusta National are the highlight of my playing career, but this is my proudest moment," said Olazabal.

"Representing Europe in the Ryder Cup has given me so much enjoyment, so to be named the European Ryder Cup captain is something very special and I am looking forward to the next 20 months before we reach Medinah.

"Without question, the Ryder Cup has given me many memorable times, especially with Seve from the moment we were first partners in 1987 and Europe won in America for the first time. We were unbeaten in 1989 and 1991 and we won our last match together in 1993.

"It was also a wonderful experience to be involved as a vice-captain with Nick Faldo and then again with Colin Montgomerie. I've learned a lot along the way and, linked to my own experiences, I look forward to drawing on all that knowledge with the aim, of course, of keeping the Cup in our possession.

"We all know the Ryder Cup is one of the most exciting and important competitions in the golfing calendar and that it always inspires team members and spectators alike, but there is nothing like holding that trophy at the end of the week.

"I have accepted the captaincy, but I think my desire to keep playing is known by everyone. This (Abu Dhabi Championship) is the first of four tournaments in succession.

"But I want to stress it is a great honour to become the European Ryder Cup captain and I will be committed to getting everything right in the build-up to the 2012 match."