By Tony Jimenez
REUTERS - Jose Maria Olazabal has called for Ryder Cup qualifying points to be made available at the Seve Trophy in order to entice the top golfers to play in the biennial match between Britain & Ireland and Continental Europe.
Olazabal led Europe to a 15-13 win over Sam Torrance's Britain & Ireland side at St Nom La Breteche on the outskirts of Paris earlier this month but the competition was something of a damp squib.
Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Luke Donald were among several leading players to shun the event and the match attracted small crowds and generated little media attention.
"We all owe something to Seve (Ballesteros)," said Olazabal of the late Spaniard who won five majors in a swashbuckling career that lit up the European Tour. "And it would be really good to see the top players competing.
"I think to make it fit as a legacy to Seve we need to have the really top players playing in it. That would make it a fantastic tournament.
"Maybe they could get points that would count towards Ryder Cup qualification. That would make it more appealing and more interesting.
"It is a team event after all," Olazabal told Reuters in an interview.
The 47-year-old Spaniard, who also led Europe to a remarkable Ryder Cup comeback victory over the United States in Illinois last year, had mixed feelings about the absence of the tour's leading lights at St Nom La Breteche.
"I was a little sad some of the top players didn't play but on the other hand I understand most of them have a tight schedule," said Olazabal.
"They were committed to the FedExCup in America and they knew they also had four very important events in the European Tour's Final Series at the end of the year that are going to be crucial for them so I guess they have to have time off here and there.
"But I've always believed the Seve Trophy can be a very important tournament," said Olazabal while attending the Nespresso Trophy final for amateur golfers in San Sebastian, Spain where the company was announced as the official coffee supplier for the 2014 Ryder Cup.
"The format is beautiful because we don't play much match play any more and the atmosphere is great.
TEARS OF JOY
"We all know each other really well in both teams, we try to beat each other on the golf course but after that we make sure we have a great time so it would be nice to see the top players involved more."
Olazabal, who shed tears of joy after the spectacular Ryder Cup victory at the Medinah Country Club last year, has not ruled out a possible vice-captaincy role when Paul McGinley leads Europe in the 2014 edition at Gleneagles, Scotland.
"After Medinah I don't think it could get any better than that for me," said the 1994 and 1999 U.S. Masters champion, "but if Paul thinks I could be of any help then obviously I would think about it.
"I would talk to Paul, let's put it that way."
Henrik Stenson virtually assured himself a place at next year's Ryder Cup after pocketing $11.4 million for winning the FedExCup last month and Olazabal believes the tall Swede will be a positive influence in Europe's team room.
"We have to take our hats off to Henrik, what a season he's had," said the Spaniard. "It's been quite amazing especially coming from where he has come from, quite extraordinary."
Stenson was outside the world's top 200 not long ago but a string of sparkling performances this season have sent him rocketing to fourth in the rankings.
The Swede has transformed his career in much the same way Olazabal did. The Spaniard won the 1999 Masters after battling back from rheumatoid polyarthritis in three joints of his right foot and two in his left.
"We were both at rock bottom and somehow, in different ways, we managed to find our way back to the top," said Olazabal. "You have to give every credit to Henrik in that regard.
"He is pretty much in the Ryder Cup team already. He played in it in 2006 and 2008 so he's got experience and he is a good team player.
"Henrik has a very open attitude, he's not afraid of showing his emotions and I think he will be a positive asset to the team." (Editing by John Mehaffey)