Golf: Olazabal reluctant to accede

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The Independent Online
SEVE BALLESTEROS did not have to wait long to discover that, in some quarters, the success of Jose- Maria Olazabal is already being viewed as a succession, the equivalent of the king is dead, long live the king. For Olazabal, in particular, it was an embarrassing moment.

The Masters champion, fresh from his victory at Augusta National, is in harness with Ballesteros in a pairs tournament, the Perrier de Paris at Saint-Cloud. The president of the club yesterday presented Olazabal with a tie, a marker and a card conferring honorary membership of the club. To Ballesteros he gave just the tie and the marker. Olazabal was amazed. 'Seve's won five majors, I've won one.'

Olazabal's victory in Georgia on Sunday evening met with an unprecedented response in his home country, too. When Ballesteros won the Open at St Andrews in 1984, Spanish television broke off coverage before his winning putt to show the Sunday evening film.

Last Sunday Olazabal's progress was shown live in Spain and there were only 13 calls of complaint about the loss of the movie. The first telegram Olazabal received was from the King and Queen of Spain, and it was closely followed by another from the prime minister. Olazabal took a phone call from the secretary of state for sport to inform him that he would have a private audience with the Spanish royal family next week.

While Olazabal, at 28 nine years Ballesteros's junior, was having dinner with club officials in the trophy room on Sunday evening, Ballesteros spent two and a half hours waiting for him at the house Olazabal had rented near Augusta National. 'It was a very emotional reunion,' Sergio Gomez, Olazabal's manager, said. They talked in the garden until 1.30am and could celebrate with nothing stronger than soft drinks thanks to Augusta's licensing laws.

Olazabal's Green Jacket for the presentation on Sunday was borrowed from a member. When he returned to the club on Monday to receive the bespoke model, he discovered that his name tag on the inside pocket had been mis-spelt. It read Olazabel. 'They don't even know the name of the winner,' Gomez said. The Spaniards did not complain to the tailor who stitched it on. 'We just smiled.'

The last time Olazabal was in France, six months ago, he looked like an understudy from Les Miserables. He was a bad loser and his repertoire consisted of cursing and club throwing. A three-month break helped. 'I decided to approach golf in a more relaxed way,' he said yesterday. 'This is the beginning. People say I'm difficult to teach but those are the ones that have never had the chance to teach me. Not winning a major has been like a huge wall. Now I'm over it.'

Gomez put it differently. 'He used to go to the tee as if he was walking to the slaughterhouse.' Ballesteros, who said that Olazabal would be the player of the Nineties, told Gomez: 'Try to protect this man. He's going to get massive offers.'