Olazabal in Rules bust-up

A rules controversy in the Seve trophy between Jose Maria Olazabal and Padraig Harrington left a sour taste...

Posted: 10 November 2003
by Bob Warters

Olazabal - controversy

It’s sad that an event like the Seve Trophy, played in such great spirit, should be soured be an incident between two of the finest players in Europe.

Irishman Padraig Harrington and Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal were paired against each other in a crucial singles on the final day of this Bi-annual tournament when Harrington asked the referee to rule whether Olazabal could repair two pitchmarks on the line of his eight foot putt on the third green at El Saler.

The Rules of Golf state that pitchmarks made freshly by a ball or from previous players, may be repaired at all times on the green though other imperfections (spikemarks made by shoes, for example) cannot be tapped down on the line, or extension of a line of a stroke.

While Harrington looked around for the referee to intervene, Olazabal went ahead anyway and did his repair work. And when Harrington mentioned it before continuing with his own putt, Olazabal, feeling his integrity was being questioned, conceded the hole and marched to the next tee.

Harrington apparently pleaded with him that it wasn’t the case at all but the double US Masters champion wasn’t having any of it. The remaining 15 holes of their match was played in stony silence as the incident festered. And despite the efforts of Harrington to appease the situation, Olazabal stiffly refused to accept his explanation.

Harrington – awkward time.

It didn’t help that Harrington, forced a half point from their match on the final green with a four foot birdie putt, enough for Great Britain and Ireland to retain the overall Trophy 15-13.

For around 15 minutes beside the 18th green, the pair were locked in private conversation, Olazabal squared-jawed and with a moody countenance, steadfastly refused to accept all efforts – including those by captains Seve Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie - to secure a peaceful settlement.

Harrington later said: "It's not worth losing a friend over, but we had 15 very awkward holes after that.

"I was not trying to question his integrity, but that's what he thought and I can 100 per cent see his side. I certainly won't be celebrating tonight and it's not the way I would have liked to get a half."

All Olazabal would say was: "I don't want to spend any time talking about it. We had a difference of opinion and I'm not going to waste any more time talking about it."

Though Olazabal’s sportsmanship has never been in question – especially after he suffered nearly two years of despair with a back injury that threatened to wreck his career – it’s not the first time he has been embroiled in Rules controversy. It has happened three times in Ryder Cup matches.

In 1999, he was the innocent victim of US players and caddies running on to the 17th green, when they thought his opponent Justin Leonard had holed a Cup-clinching putt. Olazabal actually had a putt to keep the match alive.

On the first hole of the 1987 fourballs at Muirfield Village, Olazabal planned to play out of turn to help his partner, Ballesteros, learn from his line for a crucial shot. His opponent Curtis Strange objected as he would be standing on the line of the American’s putt. A simmering Seve settled the issue by holing his chip from off the green.

In 1991 at Kiawah Island, Paul Azinger and Chip Beck switched between balls of differing compression in a way that broke the "One-Ball Condition" Rule. Ballesteros and Olazabal suspected an error, but as they did not alert the referee before playing the next hole, they could not claim the hole under Rule 2-5. The incident has ever since caused bad blood between Azinger and Seve.

Early in his professional career Olazabal fell foul of top referee Jon Paramor. His ball plugged deep in a bunker of fresh sand on a new Tour course, the angry Spaniard complained. When coolly requested to ‘play it as it lies’ he rounded on Paramor – "well you play it, then!" The burly official, himself a three-handicapper, later gave Olazabal a dressing down and fined him for his insolence.

While one of the greatest players ever to grace a golf course, the 37-year-old from Fuenterrabia can often appear surly and uncommunicative. I’m not the only golf-writer who within hours of spending time in his company can be ‘blanked’, despite a friendly greeting.

It would be sad if this weekend’s incident effects the team spirit of future matches involving Harrington and Olazabal on the same side and the European Tour should act quickly to enforce peace talks between the two.

Tell us on the forum about incidents you have experienced over Rules controversies.

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Be interested to hear what other people thought of the BBC's coverage of the Seve Trophy. Thursday and Friday - might as well not have bothered, unless of course you were lucky enough to get time off work. Thursday, 1.5 hours mid-afternoon, no highlights. Slightly longer Friday, no highlights. Saturday slightly longer, no highlights......And Sunday, what a joke. Delayed coverage when most matches had already gone through nine holes....and what preceded the golf? Some mothers do ave em - and if that doesn't sum up the BBC mentality I don't know what does. Sure the beeb has to cater for a wide range of tastes but really, did this coverage warrant shipping 4 commentators, Steve Ryder (and 'super' buggy) to Spain for a nice liitle get together?

Posted: 09/11/2003 at 19:09

Sorry mate but I believe more is better.I can take looking even at ruined greens in the sun when Iv'e just come home from a match {won on eighteen}soaking wet and watching a punch up between Padraig and Hose',did see the coverage on the weekdays and it was good.
If we moan and they pick up on it,they might not bother at all,next time.

Posted: 09/11/2003 at 20:39

BBC should leave it to Sky to cover the golf. They put more effort into it and the commentators are so much better. I cannot stand the drivel that Peter Allis puts out. The major criticism with Sky is when covering the "lesser" events in USA, where they use local tv coverage, and we all know about Americans & their ad breaks, but I would rather have that than no golf at all.

Posted: 09/11/2003 at 20:58

I like Allis .. he is such an old buffer it is hilarious .. tho if he was a member at my club I'd probably have to punch him .. (sorry .. push him firmly)

Posted: 09/11/2003 at 21:22

The xchange between Seve and Monty and the obvious respect that the great man deserves:
If I beat him for the third time he will sit on my mantlepiece and I get to keep him.
Nice one Keith,lol.
More to the point on Sky coverage,
If we weren't being held to ransom by Murdoch and News International,you would see better coverage and exposure.
I cancelled mine five years ago in personal protest.

Posted: 10/11/2003 at 09:21

Can anybody tell me what qualifies Julian Tutt as a golf commentator, I have seen him at my local driving range and would be described as average at a push.
He should stick to airshows as I think he is or was a pilot.
I think it could be the usual, seeing as he has military contacts, that it`s not what, but who you know!!.

Posted: 10/11/2003 at 09:42

Ah, Gil, now I understand (and sympathize) – if all you’ve seen over the last five years is BBC golf coverage then that explains a lot.

Well, you pays your money and makes your choices and I respect that. Personally, I prefer to watch buckets full of live golf and other golf programmes like World of Golf, Inside the PGA Tour, Challenge Tour Golf, Seniors Tour Golf, yes even Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf (don’t you just love those hickory sticks), etcetera, etcetera. The live coverage of the Ryder Cup alone was worth the subscription, not to mention the US Open, the US PGA, the Volvo PGA, British Masters, the resurgence of Lee Westwood in the BMW International and Dunhill Links …man oh man you have missed some golf…no way could the BBC have covered even 1% of this lot with or without Sky.

Back to BBC coverage; sure there were some nice moments occasionally interspersed with a little delayed golf.... at one point I thought I had inadvertently switched to Bill Oddie's Watch the Birdie..…

Posted: 10/11/2003 at 20:03

Thanx for the sympathies mate but they're really not necassary,I'm out either playing,socialising or motorcycling or drunk somewhere or all of them.If my gorgeous wife isn't with me,I go home to her and we watch some golf over a glass of Shiraz free on the old satalite dish ie,European Tour {it's in German but the golfs the same or high lights free on CNN or Eurosport.As an ex media person I disagree that Golf coverage would have been worse.Sometimes,just sometimes,it becomes a bit like the old Griff and Mel snooker sketch on sinking a red.One, and on sinking again, Another one and another one,you have to remember that coverage has to take in the viewing of the elderly and infirmed and I respect your right to get as much as you can,after all you are picking up the tab and by pay and view taking the question of competition out of the agenda for ever,people don't have their pictures taken with monkeys in Spain anymore because they now know of the cruelty and exploitation of that breed and what their patronage to the big buck brings.Sometimes it's a matter of choice.

Posted: 10/11/2003 at 23:46

I didnt quite get the bit about monkeys .. was someone being unkind to Lionel or the BM ?

Posted: 11/11/2003 at 10:44

No,they're both grrrrr-illa's.

Posted: 11/11/2003 at 12:10

Boo to you too Gil baby! you the man bein dissed for not watchin enough tube? But don't you be bringing monkey exploitation inna this. I'll do piccies any time, got a cute one of someone's wife holding my banana for me!!!

Posted: 11/11/2003 at 13:54

Oh dear did I touch a nerve or something to be described as elderly, infirm and exploited all in the same post. No wonder people are put off from joining in forums. Since when has 'subscription' become 'pay per view'? I'll tell you what, you keep the freebie German stuff and I'll take Sky golf coverage and we'll leave it at that....

Posted: 11/11/2003 at 17:02

The problem I find with the bbc golf programs is I tape most of my golf and watch them later but I usually end up seeing athletics - football - and other sporting events and perhaps if I'm lucky a little bit of golf !!

As with sky I can set my vidio and I know that when I play it back later that evening I will have at least a couple of hours of golf to watch.

Posted: 11/11/2003 at 20:00

Read it again Russ,The Beeb put on shows not for mainline enthusiasts but the real majority of emptynesters{disposable income and children have left home} who sit at home all day and watch TV.
Just coz the BigMonkey touched a convoluted nerve about the ammount of time you watch TV,
just stand up and hold your hand up.
BigMonkey gotta a fyffe incher.

Posted: 11/11/2003 at 20:11

Yep read it again.I am more than grateful for your explanation because I was none the wiser after reading it a second time. But then that's the problem isn't it; posts (and e-mails come to that) quite often tend to be a quick brain dump of all the things one wants to say, and as the author you are perfectly clear in your own mind what you mean, but often tend to ramble with no structure.

Mustn't get so touchy I supose...

I am not sure what a "convoluted nerve" is but I do hope I avoid this affliction in case it affects my golf swing which thus far (touch wood) has remained quite sound.

As for the amount of time watching golf then I will admit to watching quite a bit, but I do play more than I watch. Part of the point about listing out all the golf programmes was that perhaps you were not aware of the breadth of golf programmes Sky now show after a 5 year break and maybe there was something there to tempt you back...not even live Ryder Cup perhaps..oh well...but then I knew that's what I meant when I wrote the thing...

Posted: 11/11/2003 at 21:08

Haven't been able to watch the Ryder Cup for years live as we play in the Ryder Cup{Dave Ryder}on the same dates.Only snatch glimpses on the clubs TV.
If you saw the statistics and analysis of a BBC audience at a golf tourney ,you would be amazed to see that actual golfers viewing are a tiny minority and the vast majority have never swung a club in their lives and thats why the overall coverage will represent that audience, with all the associated things that cause you displeasure,ie banal conversation and so forth.

Posted: 12/11/2003 at 12:15

Sorry Mr Forbes but can't agree with you on Peter Allis.
The man is the master. His commentaries are without exception the finest on the box. The man is an institution and long may he continue.He is quirky but has all the knowledge coupled with the charm and wit that others only dream of.

Posted: 12/11/2003 at 14:05

You can make that argument for most sporting events the BBC covers yet look at the snooker coverage they provide. And look at their exceptional coverage of the Open, which included, on BBC digital, an additional 4 live screens covering selected matches and specific holes. No, I'm afraid you will never convince me that the BBC could not have done an awful lot better and given the event which bears the name 'Seve' the coverage it deserved.

Posted: 12/11/2003 at 14:43

The Open is a major that the TV companies can sell the airtime live and make a buck or two on a worldwide scale and make videos of the event plus merchandising to further swell their coffers,snooker is cheap because you'll need very little outside broadcast equipment but the majority audience is the same as golf.
It's an assumption that Seve has endeared himself to all,his people just might,just might have negotiated badly or even played one against the other to finally end up with the coverage you didn't see but I did.
Behind closed doors I'll garauntee there is a reason.

Posted: 12/11/2003 at 21:25


Which is the worst major meltdown?
Jean Van de Velde - 1999 Open (74%)
Rory McIlroy - 2011 Masters (5%)
Adam Scott - 2012 Open (0%)
Jordan Spieth - 2016 Masters (10%)
Greg Norman - 1996 Masters (12%)
Arnold Palmer - 1966 US Open (0%)