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Posts Tagged ‘Ryder Cup’

Having started to only have an appreciation for golf in the mid to late nineties, I unfortunately never experienced the mystic that surrounded the Spanish Swashbuckler, Severiano Ballesteros. By that time, though still young in age, he was winding down a career that saw him win 50 times in the European Tour, 5 times in majors (3 British and 2 Masters) and revitalized the interest for the Ryder Cup not only in continental Europe but the world. I read about his exploits and saw the film clips but he was not personally relevant for me in my love and understanding of golf. It was therefore a great surprise to me when good friend Jimbo Reverente, wanted to name his first child Severiano. Why? Who was this guy anyway?

And then came, the Ryder Cup in Valderama, Spain in 1997.

At the time, the Ryder Cup had been reborn and the biennial meet started being a closely fought affair between the two continents. Europe was in the midst of a transition though. While they have done well in previous cups, their team was a combination of players in the last legs of their careers and new players still trying to make names for themselves. Europe still had Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Bernard Langer, Colin Montgomerie, and Jose Maria Olazabal. But they were long toothed. Their teammates on the other hand were still unknown entities in the world of golf and were considered as young and not yet in their prime. Lee Westwood was the young guy playing with Faldo. They also had other rookies like Per Ulrich Johansson, Thomas Byorn, Ignacio Garrido and Darren Clarke. Really the only guys in their prime would have been Jasper Parnevik and Constantinople Rocca, hardly names to be scared of.

The US on the other hand had stars littering their line up, led by then new Masters Champion Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Tom Lehman, Scott Hoch, Lee Jansen, Mark O’Meara, Brad Faxon, Justin Leonard and Jeff Maggert. Clearly, the powers in golf were safely tucked in the US.

But this is the Ryder Cup and the US was in a severe slump. They had not won the cup since 1993 and were itching to get the cup back. Led by the ultimate grinder Tom Kite, the US team had all the tools to grab the cup back and fly the same stateside.

Europe though was captained by the inimitable Severiano Ballesteros. This edition of the cup was historical for the sole reason that it was the first one held in continental Europe. Seve of course was honored to be the first non-British captain and he made sure to bring the event to his homeland.

Frankly, the honor of captaincy given to him was well deserved. On his broad shoulder grew the European Tour to what it is today. In the height of his career, he could have ventured into the US and plied his trade there. But he felt the need to grow the game in Europe and chose to remain in the fledgling tour in the hopes of creating a home for the growth of future stars in the continent. His sacrifice and vision led to the development of the new generation of European stars who so dominated the golfing world in the 80’s and early 90’s that arguments were raised that the best golf in the world was played in that tour. In the Ryder Cup, where his star truly shined, he led his side through such a dominant stretch that the event evolved from being an afterthought and junket for US players to a competitive boiler room event. With Olazabal, he formed the famed Spanish Armada that lost only twice in 15 matches. The rise therefore of both the European tour and the Ryder Cup can be attributed to Seve.

Many say he is the Arnold Palmer of European golf. That is true in many senses as like Arnie, he made golf popular, reachable for the masses and relevant in the sporting landscape. Also like Arnie, he conducted himself with the regal demeanor of a king, while playing the game with reckless abandon and swashbuckling flair. Both too had a charisma that was innate and exuded from their very pores. But he too was a unique figure in the game. He was ruthless on course but was loved by all. He was aloof yet admired. He viewed his competitors as enemies he wanted to crush but was respected by his peers. He is Seve.

His infectious energy was in hyper drive throughout the 32nd edition of the Ryder Cup in 1997. He led his troops to an unlikely 10 1/2 to 5 1/2 lead after two days whizzing around on his golf cart encouraging his boys to play beyond themselves. He then held his men together in the face of a serious US rally on the final day, as the Americans won 8 of the 12 singles matches. In the end though, with a conceded 15 foot putt of Montgomerie to Hoch, to halve the match, Europe won the event and retained the cup. Seve claimed what seemed inevitably his, a Ryder Cup he captained to victory. A cup he can call his own.

After watching the whole thing live, I finally understood who Seve was He will be remembered by most for his jaw dropping shots from near impossible situations. He will be hailed as the carpark champion, the youngest Masters champion (at the time), the imaginative shotmaker who could blast a ball cleanly from a green side bunker to stop on a dime while using a 3 iron. For me, he will be that captain, that leader in the 1997 Ryder Cup, solidifying his place as the true leader of European golf. He was a leader, a champion, a symbol, an idol.

Goodbye Seve. We had you for only 54 years, but those were 54 years well spent. You will be missed. Let us all stand in attention and waive the Spanish Swashbuckler goodbye.

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