Golf: Spaniards work for a revival: Robert Green looks at the fresh challenges facing two great golfers

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The Independent Online
AS THE European golf tour heads back to Europe, much attention will be focused on the two Spaniards at bay: Severiano Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. The last time either of them won a tournament Neil Kinnock was still leader of the Labour Party, and Mr Blobby was a nobody. When once they seemed invincible, they now appear incapable.

Ballesteros, who is making his seasonal debut in the Turespana Masters on Thursday week, will be 37 in April. That figure is not far short of the number of teachers he has consulted over the past few years. At the Ryder Cup last September, he solicited the opinions of five different savants in one afternoon.

Such promiscuity has confused the mind of one of the most natural swingers of a golf club the game has ever known. David Leadbetter, who has intermittently worked with Ballesteros, says: 'He used to be long and crooked. Now he's short and crooked. It's a terrible combination. His technique stinks.'

Last season was the first since 1976 in which Ballesteros did not win a tournament, and he prepares to embark on this new campaign declaring refreshed confidence, in part generated by the conviction that he has found a swing-key to cure his legendary wildness off the tee. He is coy about revealing any details, although he says it is something he picked up from studying action photographs of Sam Snead. Ballesteros's renewed vigour has also been inspired by a fitness regimen that has seen him put on weight but lose fat. The weight increase has been achieved by building up his muscles and despite a drastic Marine-style haircut acquired during his two-month winter sojourn in Arizona.

'My back has bothered me for much of my career,' he explained. 'But the exercises I am doing now make me feel much fitter and they have also eased my discomfort.' No one should doubt his determination to be a force again.

At the age of 27, Ballesteros had won three major championships and was about to collect his fourth. Olazabal turned 27 last Saturday, and he is still waiting for his first. It almost arrived at the Masters in 1991, but a last-hole bogey denied him the chance of a play-off with Ian Woosnam. For months afterwards, Olazabal would curse when he recalled what he regarded as his abject failure to grasp that opportunity. Now, says his manager, Sergio Gomez, that attitude has changed.

'I have never known him so relaxed,' says Gomez. 'He used to think that one bad shot was the biggest tragedy of his life, but now he accepts that isn't so. He realises bad shots are bound to happen.' Like Ballesteros, Olazabal halted his 1993 schedule last November. He was not lured away from Spain by the lucre on offer in places like Jamaica, Dubai and Thailand this past winter. Instead he rested, and played golf with his friends, mostly at three courses - Seignosse, Hossegor and Chiberta - in the Basque country just across the border from his home in San Sebastian.

And like Ballesteros, Olazabal has been making adjustments to his technique, specifically working on attacking the ball on a more inside line. And today he has a chance to prove that he is truly rejuvenated by ending his victory drought: his 69 in yesterday's third round keeps him in contention for the Tenerife Open.

Nick Faldo and Nick Price are among those who think Olazabal's game requires more radical surgery. 'I think he's starting to drive the ball poorly because of his grip,' says Price. 'He's lost a little bit of handspeed and strength.' Faldo added: 'I think he is holding himseIf back technically. If I were him, I would be looking to alter my swing.' Unless Olazabal bites that bullet, he may forever be firing blanks when the majors come around.

(Photograph omitted)

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