Olazabal makes heartfelt tribute to mentor's family

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The Independent Online

THERE WAS another Sergio from the close-knit family that is Spanish golf who was not forgotten at St Andrews as Spain won the Alfred Dunhill Cup for the first time in 15 attempts. Sergio Gomez was the junior organiser at the San Sebastian club near the Basque coast when Jose Maria Olazabal first displayed his vast skills.

THERE WAS another Sergio from the close-knit family that is Spanish golf who was not forgotten at St Andrews as Spain won the Alfred Dunhill Cup for the first time in 15 attempts. Sergio Gomez was the junior organiser at the San Sebastian club near the Basque coast when Jose Maria Olazabal first displayed his vast skills.

Gomez took Olazabal under his wing and, after the youngster turned professional, became his manager and virtually constant travelling companion along with his wife, Maite. When another young phenomenon came along, he was free with his advice to Sergio Garcia, his family and business friends.

But Gomez was not at St Andrews as his brother died just prior to the tournament. "I want to dedicate this victory to Sergio and his family," said Olazabal. "They're going through tough times, especially his mum."

Olazabal's captain, the 19-year-old Garcia, added his tribute. "We talked to Sergio and told him 'now we have a good reason to win this tournament'. I am so proud of my team. I think Sergio and the whole of his family deserve this trophy."

Olazabal was making his eighth appearance in the event, Miguel Angel Jimenez his ninth. A certain Seve Ballesteros played a few times as well but, as at the Ryder Cup, the very special genius of El Niño inspired his team-mates. A year ago, when Spain lost in the final, Santiago Luna was the third member of the team and managed a victory over Tiger Woods in the semi-finals.

This year Garcia lost both his matches on Sunday but still came out a winner. Jimenez was the man to thank with three important wins over the weekend after losing his first two games. "Miguel said 'if you need me, I'll be there,' and he proved that," Garcia said. "He and Jose Maria gave me a lot of confidence. It is a team event and everybody played their part. We needed two people to play well and that's what we did every single day."

Garcia was 18 under par for his five rounds over the Old Course, the venue for next year's Open Championship. They say it takes time to get to know the venerable lay-out, but the Kid had never been there before. In 91 holes, he never found any of those scorecard-wrecking fairway pot-bunkers.

"I'm looking forward to the Open with some confidence, but you know it will be different," said Garcia, who missed the cut at Carnoustie this year at 30 over par. "You know what happened to me at the Open this year after winning the Irish Open and finishing second at Loch Lomond.

"It's a totally different tournament, the weather, you don't know what the weather will be. I hope I will win the Open next year. But don't expect me to win. I'll come here and try to win, and that's all I can do."

The last time Garcia played at Wentworth, scene of this week's World Match Play, was at the PGA Championship in May when Olazabal appealed for calm in speculation about whether his young compatriot might attain the then lofty goals of, say, making the Ryder Cup team. "A few months ago everyone was asking Sergio questions about making the Ryder Cup and what he would achieve in the future," Olazabal recalled. "I just thought at the time it was the wrong thing for him to be listening to. I was trying to take the pressure away as much as possible. But now a few months have passed by and he has proved he can handle all kinds of pressure. There is no need for him to be protected. He has to protect us!"

* Prize-money for next year's Weetabix Women's British Open at Royal Birkdale has been increased by over 25 per cent to £730,000. Should Sherri Steinhauer achieve a third successive victory, the American will win £120,000.

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