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Ryder Cup Teams; European Captain Jose Maria Olazabal; Inside Track on Medinah Course; Luke Donald's Hotshots; Chinese National Team Eyes Rio

Aired September 8, 2012 - 03:30   ET


SHANE O'DONOGHUE, HOST: It's the greatest rivalry in golf: Europe versus America, right here and right this month. Welcome to Medinah and welcome to LIVING GOLF.

On this month's program, an intimate profile of the man leading Europe's challenge, Jose Maria Olazabal, a lesson from short game master and Chicago resident Luke Donald, and on the road to Rio with the Chinese National Team.


DAVIS LOVE III, CAPTAIN, US RYDER CUP TEAM: I'm very excited today to tell you who the next four team members will be: Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker, Steve Stricker.

JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL, CAPTAIN, EUROPEAN RYDER CUP TEAM: My two picks to join and complete this team are Nicolas Colsaerts and Ian Poulter.

O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): So, now we know the two teams for Medinah. The resurgent Tiger Woods leads the team with a strong supporting cast, including a trio of young Major champions: Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, and Keegan Bradley.

To them, Captain Love added the experience of Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, the long-hitting of Dustin Johnson, and the recent form of Brandt Snedeker.

Europe's captain, Jose Maria Olazabal, already head ten of his team qualifying through the European and world rankings. To them, Olazabal chose to add Ian Poulter, a player who always seems able to respond to the pressure of the Ryder Cup, and the first Belgian ever to appear in the contest, Nicolas Colsaerts. Love and Olazabal will lead out their teams at Medinah on September 28th.


O'DONOGHUE: Now, when Jose Maria Olazabal was awarded the European captain's seat, nobody was the least bit surprised. It marked the culmination of not just a great career, but also the journey from small- town Spain to the heart of European golf.


O'DONOGHUE: Jose Maria, your family is so associated with this club, from the very beginnings of its move to this particular location. How long ago was that?


O'DONOGHUE: Was it really when you were born?

OLAZABAL: Yes, correct. It was -- when I was born. Actually, the first nine holes of the golf course were built, and somebody had to put the flags in for the opening the following day, and my mom did that. She put the nine flags on each of the front nine, and I was born the following day. So, that's how close my relationship is to this place.

O'DONOGHUE: The family history in this area. You were farmers originally.

OLAZABAL: Yes. Correct. When the landlord sold the land, he sold it under one condition, that all the people that worked the land would have a job on the golf course in some way, shape, or form, either as a greenkeeper or somebody working on the clubhouse or whatever.

And that's how my family got the job. My father became a greenkeeper and my mom and my grandmother used to work here in the clubhouse, yes.

O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): Just behind the clubhouse and right in the middle of the course is the home in which Jose Maria grew up, a simple farmhouse now converted into a caddy house.

OLAZABAL: 86 was my first year as a professional, so I lived here all the way until 93.

O'DONOGHUE (on camera): So, as a little boy, you'd come home from school and literally the 9th green was just here. You'd walk outside the door --

OLAZABAL: Correct. Yes, that's true.

O'DONOGHUE: Now, your own little nephew, ten years old, is now practicing like his uncle?

OLAZABAL: Yes, a little bit, yes. As you can see, my nephew is left- handed. He does it quite well.

O'DONOGHUE: A chip off the old black.

OLAZABAL: Yes. In those days, people didn't used to play golf. Only wealthy people could play it, and they used to come at the weekends, or maybe on holidays. And actually, from Mondays to Fridays, there was no one on the golf course, so I had the whole golf course for me, and as soon as I could walk, I was already hitting balls.

O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): Jose Maria's success on the amateur circuit singled him out as a young player with massive potential, and at the age of 15, prompted an invitation that would shape his career forever.

OLAZABAL: I was at home when all of a sudden I got a phone call asking me if I wanted to play on a charity match against Seve at his home course. And first of all, I thought somebody was pulling my leg or taking a joke on me, and I said, "Come on, it cannot be true." And I actually learned it was true.

I went there. I didn't know what to expect. Obviously, I knew Seve had won the -- the Open, but I had the best time of my life, yes. That day was very special. And I think it contributed, also, to what happened in the future, me pairing with Seve. We understood each other very well, and I think everything was born and happened that day.

O'DONOGHUE (on camera): You got off to a brilliant start as a professional. You were up there with Seve, up at the top of the Order of Merit. And then, the following year, 87, you make your debut as a wild card on the Ryder Cup team, 25 years ago.

OLAZABAL: Yes, true. I heard about the Ryder Cup, but I never saw one, so when I was just amazed of the atmosphere. I'd never seen anything like that before in my life. It was great to be also on a team with a great five: Seve, Woosie, Langer, Sandy, and me.

O'DONOGHUE: And Seve obviously was like a father figure for you during that week.


O'DONOGHUE: You played together all the time.


O'DONOGHUE: And you started this wonderful relationship with him in foursomes and four balls.

OLAZABAL: Well, actually, I think he took care of everything. I think Tony that week, he didn't know what to do with me because I was a rookie. What the hell was he going to do with me that week? I didn't have any experience at the Ryder Cup. And all of a sudden, Seve somehow took care of that. I think he approached Tony and said, "Tony, don't you worry, I'll play with him."

I remember walking from the putting green to the first tee the first day of the match. I was, obviously, very, very nervous. And he walked next to me, and he just said, "Jose, you just play your game. I'll take care of the rest." And somehow, it took a great relief when I heard that.

O'DONOGHUE: What does it mean to go back there, now, as a captain?

OLAZABAL: It's an honor, because the players have decided that they wanted me in that position. And well, I guess I must have done something right all these years to earn that spot. But going back there is a lot of responsibility.

I know we're playing away. They're going to set up the course, obviously, to their liking, the same way as we do when the Ryder Cup is played here in Europe. The crowds are going to be massive, loud. We need to be prepared for that.

O'DONOGHUE: Can we win?

OLAZABAL: Of course we can. Yes, I don't have any doubts that we can win. We're going to have to play our socks off, to be honest. I think that they're going to be really mentally prepared, ready for it. They're going to be coming at us fast, and we have to be prepared for that.

O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): Jose Maria has now had nearly two years of captain's duties. They've taken him all around the world as the face of European golf. Very soon, it will be down to just him and his team.

OLAZABAL: I love watching the players on TV, checking them, seeing their body language, trying to encourage them or give them hope. I enjoy that part, and I'm really looking forward to the week itself.

O'DONOGHUE: Away from the intense pressure and the scrutiny of the Ryder Cup, there's one place that this deeply-private man can always feel at home, and just before we left Hondarribia, Jose Maria invited us to join him for a taste of the vast region.

O'DONOGHUE (on camera): Wow, look at this.

OLAZABAL: This is one of the places I usually come to when I want to have a cup. As you can see, we have the ham and all the different dishes. We're going to order some specialties. Cod tortilla.

O'DONOGHUE: Cod tortilla.

OLAZABAL: Very famous, cod tortilla.

O'DONOGHUE: OK, right.


O'DONOGHUE: Fish is so popular around here, isn't it?

OLAZABAL: Yes, fish is very popular. Obviously, we're just by the sea. And here it is, the main one. This is the one I wanted to show you. This is octopus a la gallega.

O'DONOGHUE: You like this?

OLAZABAL: I love it. It's very tender. They do it very, very well around here.

O'DONOGHUE: This is what home means to you?

OLAZABAL: Yes, correct. And to everyone in the world, enjoy. If you ever have a chance to come to San Sebastian, you know where to come. Cheers.

O'DONOGHUE: Here's to Europe and the Ryder Cup. Success.

OLAZABAL: Thank you very much.


O'DONOGHUE: Still to come on LIVING GOLF, the inside track on the course here at Medinah, and a lesson from one of Europe's superstars.


O'DONOGHUE: Welcome back to LIVING GOLF. Now, here at Medinah, Davis Love gets one distinct advantage as home captain: he gets to choose how the course is set up. So, what's in store?


O'DONOGHUE: So, Mike, tell me about 15, because this is obviously going to be an important hole during the Ryder Cup. It's a risk-reward hole. This is one that Davis Love wants to see players taking it on.

MIKE SCULLY, HEAD PRO, MEDINAH COUNTRY CLUB: We've moved the green a little bit back up the hill, added the pond to bring in that risk-reward factor of trying to drive it over water. And you look your statistics, and Ryder Cup matches, a lot of them end on 15 and 16, so I think we've created a corner, here, for some unbelievable excitement for the matches.

O'DONOGHUE: With regard to the course setup, Davis Love is not into having penal rough. He wants a little bit more gentile.

SCULLY: Yes, I think this is all about birdies and eagles.


SCULLY: And having the guy win the hole with birdies and eagles. They don't want -- it's not a PGA championship or a US Open or the Open championships, seeing the guys win holes with a disaster.


SCULLY: That's up there.

O'DONOGHUE: Not quite Bubba length, but it'll do.


O'DONOGHUE: Well, Mike, this is a classic scenario, the risk-reward, because you had the length. It looked like it was going to make it the green, but maybe just fell away to the right, down this steep slope, and water.

SCULLY: I definitely didn't get the members' bounce here.


SCULLY: It kicked down in the water, so now I've got to scramble to get up and down to save par. But I think that's what we're looking for to add the excitement.



O'DONOGHUE: Didn't see that one.

SCULLY: You're hitting 197 from right here.

O'DONOGHUE: 197. Like this is going to be such a spectacular hole, especially in match play. If it goes this far in a match, you're onto the 17th tee and you're looking down at this scene, which is going to be absolutely swarming with people.

SCULLY: With people, right. We're thinking we'll probably have about 10,000 people around the back of the green. Davis is -- really, the only thing he specified with Curtis was that he didn't want the rough to be six to eight inches.

They've talked about green speeds, which Curtis will target, that 12 and a half, 13 range, which the guys are used to seeing on tour. But again, setup where we want to see birdies and guys making eagle.

O'DONOGHUE: And the Europeans are so familiar with American setups now anyway. You're not going to give them something alien, really, are you?

SCULLY: No, it's -- no. It's -- and half the team's been here and they've played the golf course, and we're anxious to see how Rory likes it. I think it's his type of golf course, so it -- it's just setting up for a fantastic competition.

O'DONOGHUE: So, it's just under 200 yards.


O'DONOGHUE: Will we give it a go?

SCULLY: We're going to give it a go.

O'DONOGHUE: All right.

SCULLY: Oh, I got on the toe. Scary.

O'DONOGHUE: Still, a nice-looking shot.

SCULLY: That's short.



SCULLY: Oh, good-looking shot! Here, turn in.

Ooh. Good stroke!

O'DONOGHUE: That was great. Thank you, Mike.

SCULLY: It's my pleasure. He took down the home pro. Two in one.


O'DONOGHUE: Of course, several players needed a captain's pick to make it here, but one who was always nailed on for a place was England's -- Europe's -- Luke Donald, the man who rose to world number one with the most sublime of short games.


TEXT: Luke Donald's Hotshots.

O'DONOGHUE: Welcome to Hotshots here on LIVING GOLF, and we're going to be investigating how exactly to play some of these very particular chip shots.

LUKE DONALD, EUROPEAN TEAM, RYDER CUP 2012: Well, technique's very important in short shots. Around the greens, putting, bunker play, technique is the most important thing. If you can get the right setup, it gives you the best chance.

O'DONOGHUE: Let's see how you do.

DONALD: Now, I want to get the ball up and one bounce and kind of checking a little bit, right by the hole. Your focus shouldn't be just on the shot, it should be on actually trying to hold it. Or at least if you're a ten handicapper, put a six-foot ring around the hole or something.

O'DONOGHUE: Yes, yes.

DONALD: Come up with some kind of aim to focus your mind a little bit. So, if you wanted to check, you've got to get the ball a little more forward, weight pretty evenly distributed, shaft nice and level. Again, that blade getting nice and open.

Full release, where your hands kind of finish near your pocket, OK? You don't want -- a lot of the times I see they try and release the club, the hands get out, the club gets that way on the shot, and the ball just rolls. So, you're just grazing the top of the grass with the back edge of the club, the bounce, and that creates a little bit of spin.

O'DONOGHUE: Let's see if we can hit one.


DONALD: Again, that was the perfect shot that I was trying to do. I had a couple bounce skip, had a chance to go in. It left me with an easy putt.

O'DONOGHUE: OK, will I try it?

DONALD: Absolutely.


DONALD: Good acceleration to the ball. That was good.


DONALD: Pin high, you pitched it on top, you got it to stop by the flag --


DONALD: So, that was just what you were trying to do.


DONALD: The knees got a little bit diggy, the arms got ahead, and the handle dragged behind, caught behind the grass, so again -- everything -- knees stay pretty quiet. You can just get this nice -- get the club moving through the ball.

O'DONOGHUE: Well, once again, we have the theory, so it's about putting it into practice, as I do have the company of Luke Donald, I might as well challenge him to one shot each. I'll go first, and then you can show how it's done, Luke.

DONALD: Let's see, no pressure here.

O'DONOGHUE: Oh, that's too much! But least it's on the green, that's how I would look at it.

DONALD: Not my best, but good enough to make the money.

O'DONOGHUE: Good enough to win. Luke, always a pleasure, thanks very much.

DONALD: Thanks.

O'DONOGHUE: Another great Hotshot here on CNN's LIVING GOLF.


O'DONOGHUE: Still to come, on the road with the Chinese, targeting golfing glory at the Rio Olympics.


O'DONOGHUE: Now, with London's Olympics still fresh in the memory, there are golfers with their sights already firmly fixed on Rio. 2016 will see the return of golf to the Olympics for the first time in over 100 years. And as you'd expect, the Chinese are taking it seriously. Very seriously, indeed.


O'DONOGHUE: Early morning, Buckinghamshire. Twelve miles away, the Chinese 2012 Olympic squad is leaving London. Here, the next generation of Chinese Olympians is rolling into town.

Meet Yu Yang and Xin Ying and their head coach, Michael Dickie, who's been based in China for the past eight years. They're preparing for the Ladies British Masters, with their sights firmly set on Rio and beyond.

MICHAEL DICKIE, HEAD COACH, CHINA NATIONAL GOLF TEAM: Well, this is Zhang Yu Yang, and she is a member of our professional group in our national team squad. Now, she's -- she has a full card on the European tour this year, so by playing these tournaments and playing well in these tournaments, we can get our world ranking up and qualify for Rio.

Sound about right?

ZHANG YU YANG, CHINA 2016 SQUAD: Yes, sounds good.


DICKIE: So, you feel good? Ready?


O'DONOGHUE: China has already identified 20 players to form two Olympic squads, a men's and a women's. Each squad contains five professionals, targeting the Rio Games in 2016, and five amateurs aimed at the 2020 Olympics.

DICKIE: Stop club time. Because that lie, the way that that hole's going to come off that rock, but it's going to run a lot, you know?

O'DONOGHUE: Golf in China was banned as bourgeois under Mao Zedong. The first new course wasn't built until 1984. But the decision to reintroduce golf into the Olympics has helped change official attitudes and brought funding for this elite, long-term program, in part because of the way players have to qualify for Rio.

There will be a men's and a women's golf tournament with 60 players in each. Players qualify though the world rankings. The top 15 men and the top 15 women qualify automatically. Then, players are selected from the world rankings in descending order to fill the rest of the places. There's a cap on the number per country, so developing golf nations have a chance.

DICKIE: We can learn fast for sure, and we're hard workers. We work 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, so yes, we'll catch up.

Yes, that's good.

O'DONOGHUE: And as usual, Xin Ying and Yu Yang aren't the only members of Michael's squad on the road this week. A third girl is on her way here after visa problems, while 14-year old Lucy Shi Yu Ting, who we met two years ago in Shanghai, is playing at tournaments in the US.

After practice, it's back to the hotel gym.

ZHANG: Every day, we have to power up dream. In the morning, we do the same, 13 minutes running, and then the resistance. In the afternoon, the coach will give us individual programs.


O'DONOGHUE: Of course, the players are also getting to experience foreign cultures. This the third week of a European tour for them, and after gym, there's a first chance to sample and old English pub -- and steak and kidney pudding.

Next morning, more practice.

DICKIE: I thought both hit the ball very well today. They were very focused, and they were also working very hard on the game, and we were both very happy with way they hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've seen them both for the first time today, and I don't think they're very fazed by this golf course.

Everyone wants to play the Olympic Games, and I really want to try my best to get into the real Olympic Games to represent my country.

WANG XIN YING, CHINA 2020 SQUAD (through translator): It's like a dream come true to have a chance to represent our country in the Olympics and bring honor to the country.

O'DONOGHUE: Remarkably, the previous week, Xin Ying finished third in her first-ever European professional tournament, and Yu Yang has made five cuts out of seven in her rookie season.

But this isn't their week. Both missed the cut, leaving Michael to concentrate on the third member of his squad, 16-year-old Xi Yu Lin, who reached Buckinghamshire with hours to spare, then made the cut without ever having seen the course.

DICKIE: Some of the China events, she's sort of been second and third, so she's having a good season. So hopefully, she can move up the leaderboard and post a good score today.

ANNOUNCER: And finally, from China, Xi Yu Lin.


O'DONOGHUE: In the end, it's a very respectable top 30 finish.

DIANA LUNA, LADIES EUROPEAN TOUR PRO: She's got that strong short game and a very good -- she hits very good the ball, so I think she's -- she needs to grow up, of course, but I think she's a very good player.

O'DONOGHUE: And as Lydia Hall claims the title, for Michael and Xi Yu, there's time to reflect on another week on the road to Rio.

LIN XI YU, CHINA 2016 SQUAD: Being a member of the national team is my honor, because the government will support us and they give us lots of chance to be here and play some tournaments in China, lots of them, and they will pay for us for the tournament and the daily training. Playing in the Olympic Games is my dream. If I can play the Olympics, I will be very happy.

DICKIE: Even though golf is just one sport, you've got the whole state pushing things forward. We're going to give a lot of people a run for their money. For sure.


O'DONOGHUE: Olympic golf, four years and counting.

Well, that's it for this edition of LIVING GOLF. Don't forget, all our reports are online, and you can keep across what we're up to on Twitter. But for now, from the course that will very soon echo to the dramas of the Ryder Cup, it's good-bye.