Unburdened by Ryder Cup expectations and the stress of being captain, Jose Maria Olazabal is now having fun.
The Spaniard, who led Europe to arguably the greatest victory in Ryder Cup history last month, showed he can still wield a mean golf club to put his name alongside his heroes on Thursday, the first day of the inaugural US$7 million BMW Masters in Shanghai.
Inspired by seeing 11 of his 12-strong team, Olazabal fired a five-under 67 at the Lake Malaran Golf Club to finish the first round in joint fourth, behind leader Jamie Donaldson (10-under 62).
Of the 11 players from the Ryder Cup team (Sergio Garcia is missing), only Peter Hanson and Francesco Molinari finished above Olazabal. World No 1 Rory McIlroy finished alongside Olazabal, with Justin Rose a stroke back. Luke Donald and Lee Westwood finished at two under.
“They showed me how to play the game, so hopefully I got some tips from them,” laughed 46-year-old Olazabal after his bogey-free round.
“Obviously, it’s been a tough year-and-a-half, a lot of things going on in your mind, decisions to make, meetings to attend. I’m really glad that it’s over,” Olazabal said of the 18 months he immersed himself in being a Ryder Cup captain, describing it as “torture” at times.
“The pressure of organising things and making decisions is gone. So now it’s fun time.”
The pressure and emotions of winning the Ryder Cup were manifold for Olazabal, with his great friend, Seve Ballesteros, always in his thoughts.
"All men die, but not all men live and you made me feel alive again,” he told his players after winning the cup at Medinah Golf Club in Chicago.
"Our team played in the spirit of Seve without ever giving up," said Olazabal, who has also had to fight the ravages of rheumatoid arthritis.
“You know what you have to do in order to get there, because the level is so high. Obviously you have to play great golf. To be in that kind of atmosphere, that’s what we really work for. And in a way, it pushes you to work a little bit harder and to give yourself a better chance.
“It gives you a push and you feed from that, too,” said Olazabal, who is in 102nd place in the Race To Dubai and needs a couple of big weeks – and cheques – to make the top 60 for the World Tour Championship.
It has been a long time since his name has been sighted on a leaderboard, but there’s no denying Olazabal ranks among the game’s best, having won two majors (both Masters).
“It’s great to shoot a low round, it’s been a while. My game has been off,” he said. “If I want to score well again, I will need to hit the driver a little better. It was maybe the weakest link today.
“At the end of the day, it’s how good you hit your driver and how many putts you make. So those are the two clubs that are key.”