The Life of Seve Ballesteros: Part 7 ‘Regain and Retain’

After looking at Ballesteros’ life off the course yesterday, today I wanted to look at his final Ryder Cup years, 1995 and 1997…

Part 7: ‘Regain and Retain’ (1995-1997)

“It was so fantastic that the only way I can describe it is “the miracle of Oak Hill!”

After the disappointment of 1993 at the Belfry, Europe bounced back to retain the Ryder Cup in 1995.

Seve wasn’t in the greatest form, and insisted to play first in the singles as he felt he was better off taking on one of team USA’s strongest members. He lost his singles match to Tom Lehman.

Philip Walton was the hero that day, sinking a chip shot on the eighteenth to seal victory.

“I thought it was wrongheaded to continue to play Ryder Cup matches in England. I believed that the cup would have disappeared many years ago if it hadn’t been for the participation of mainland Europeans.”

From the late 1980s, the European Tour had considered hosting the Ryder Cup in other European countries rather than just Britain. The decision that the 1993 edition was to be played at the Belfry was the last straw. And Ballesteros took to the press to push for a Spanish Ryder Cup in 1997.

In 1994, Spain was announced to become the first country in Europe to host the Ryder Cup other than Britain. The question now was which course. Seve wanted to be played at a course he was developing (Novo Sancti Petri). However, the committee announced that it was the Valderrama Golf Course, one of the most prestigious and elitist golf courses not just in Spain but also in Europe.

“Initially I objected the offer, but after consulting my brothers, I had a change of thought.”

Schofield asked Seve to be Europe’s next captain for the 97’ Ryder Cup. At first, he rejected the opportunity, stating he very much wanted to play in his home country. Schofield did state that a captain could possibly play as well, but we all know you can’t be a good captain and play to the best of your abilities at the same time. And after talking it over with family, Ballesteros made a U-turn and became Europe’s captain.

After suggesting switching the foursomes and fourballs events around on the timetable (a move which has now stuck in every Ryder Cup since), Ballesteros made what he recalls “the toughest choices I have ever made in my life” by choosing his pairings for the first two days.

Unlike captains before him, Seve personally asked each team member to name who they would feel comfortable playing with. This proved to be the right move as by the end of the Saturday session, Europe were winning 9-4.

Needing just 4 points from the 12 singles matches, Seve was secretly confident that his team could win and retain the Ryder Cup. However things didn’t go too smoothly. Olazábal lost his match as well as Nick Faldo.

But good old reliable Colin Montgomerie, in the pouring rain, sunk the final putt. Europe had won again, for Seve, “his proudest moment in his career.”

A moment that touched me most about the 1997 Ryder Cup was the post match conference, where Jose Maria Olazábal burst out in tears whilst describing his injuries, which ruled him out from playing for 18 months.

Seve response was this…

“He didn’t disappoint, he made a great contribution. He won two and a half points for the team out of a possible four. For me, Jose Maria Olazábal has been and always will be one of the greatest Ryder Cup players of the modern era.”

This was to be the last Ryder Cup Seve Ballesteros was to participate in as either a player or captain. With five Ryder Cup wins, he was key in Europe’s success at the back end of the twentieth century.

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