Jose Maria Olazabal: Bio of Spanish Golf Star

Jose Maria Olazabal tees off during the European Tour's Iberdrola Open in 2011.

Julian Finney/Getty Images


Jose Maria Olazabal is a two-time major championship winner whose career was punctuated both by Ryder Cup success and a string of injuries. When he was healthy, Olazabal was considered one of the best in the game in the 1990s. His career on the PGA Tour and European Tour stretched from the 1980s until he reached his 50s in the 2010s.

Fast Facts: Jose Maria Olazabal

  • Occupation: Professional golfer
  • Nickname: Ollie or Chemma
  • Born: February 5, 1966 in Fuenterrabia, Spain
  • Key Accomplishments: Winner of nearly 30 pro tour events, including The Masters twice; key player for Team Europe in the Ryder Cup.
  • Quote: "I think they should ban all drivers — just use irons."
  • Fun Fact: Olazabal and countryman Seve Ballesteros were the most successful partnership in Ryder Cup history. They won 11 times as partners, with two halves and only two losses.

Total Wins and Major Championship Victories

Olazabal has more than 30 wins on top-level tours around the world. He won six times on the U.S. PGA Tour, 23 times on the European Tour and two times on the Japan Tour.

Olazabal won twice in the professional majors, first at the 1994 Masters and then at the 1999 Masters. Before turning pro, Olazabal also won an amateur major, the 1984 British Amateur Championship.

Awards and Honors for Olazabal

  • Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
  • Member, European Ryder Cup team, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2006
  • Captain, European Ryder Cup team, 2012
  • European Tour Rookie of the Year, 1986


Jose Maria Olazabal was known throughout his career for his iron play and imaginative short game, and for being a gentleman on and off the course.

He was also known for his passionate play in the Ryder Cup for Team Europe. Olazabal played in seven Ryder Cups, first in 1987 and last in 2006. He won 18 matches and earned 20.5 points for Team Europe, compiling an overall Ryder Cup record of 18-8-5.

Most famously, Olazabal partnered Seve Ballesteros in 15 matches, the duo winning 11 of them to form the most successful partnership in Ryder Cup history. In 2011, Olazabal was chosen to captain Team Europe at the 2012 Ryder Cup.

Early Years

On Feb. 4, 1966, in Fuenterrabia, Spain, Real Golf Club de San Sebastian opened next door to the Olazabal family home. The next day, Jose Maria was born. Olazabal's grandfather was greenskeeper at the golf club, and, later, Olazabal's father took over that job. His mother worked at the club, too, and Jose Maria hit his first golf balls at age 2. He began playing rounds on the golf course at age 6.

Before too long, Olazabal was competing and winning. Before turning pro, he enjoyed a very successful amateur career, including wins at age 17 in the 1983 Italian Amateur and Spanish Amateur, plus the British Boys Amateur Championship. At age 18, he repeated as Spanish Am winner, and thrashed Colin Montgomerie, 5 and 4, to win the 1984 British Amateur Championship.


Olazabal turned pro at age 19, and won the 1985 European Tour Q-School tournament. In his rookie season of 1986, Olazabal finished second on the European Tour money list, won two tournaments (his first victory was at the 1986 Ebel European Masters Swiss Open) and was named Rookie of the Year.

The following year Olazabal played in his first Ryder Cup at age 21.

He played mostly on the European Tour in the 1980s and 1990s, finishing as high as second on the money list once more, in 1989. He had three wins on the Euro Tour in both 1990 and 1993. In 1990, he also earned his first win on the PGA Tour at the NEC World Series of Golf.

Olazabal was second at the 1991 Masters and third at the 1992 British Open, but his breakthrough major championship victory happened at the 1994 Masters. He won the World Series of Golf again that season and finished seventh on the USPGA money list despite playing in only eight PGA Tour events.

In 1995, Olazabal reached No. 4 in the world rankings, his highest position.


Olazabal's career took a turn late in 1995, when he was forced to withdraw from the Ryder Cup with foot and back pain. From this point forward, injuries - specifically severe foot pain due to rheumatoid arthritis - were as much a part of Olazabal's career as the Ryder Cup had been.

Another Green Jacket

Olazabal missed all of 1996 and part of 1997, but returned in 1998 and won on the European Tour again. Then, a second Green Jacket with victory at the 1999 Masters. But Olazabal was never the same again, at least not for extended periods, and has battled his foot problems ever since. The arthritis has limited him to just a handful of tournaments in several seasons, but in other years he managed to play full or close to full schedules.

Olazabal played mostly on the PGA Tour in the 2000-aughts, returned to the Ryder Cup in 2006, and has posted a handful of wins since his 1990s heyday.

In 2009, he was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame. Since turning 50 in 2016, Olazabal has played on both the regular tours (PGA Tour, European Tour), while also joining the Champions Tour.

Olazabal Trivia

  • In 1984, Jose Maria Olazabal won the British Amateur by beating Colin Montgomerie in the championship match.
  • Olazabal and his countryman Seve Ballesteros formed a Ryder Cup partnership known as the "Spanish Armada." Olazabal and Ballesteros combined to win 12 points as partners, compiling an 11-2-2 record in foursomes and fourballs — both records for most successful Ryder Cup pairing.
  • Olazabal shot 63 in the third round of the 2000 PGA Championship, making him one of numerous golfers to share the then-major championship record for lowest round.