The 146th Open was one that saw records tumble left, right and centre.
Great sporting champions have many traits.
They have the raw skill and talent but also that burning desire to win. They are resilient and never give up, even if they are staring defeat in the face.
Jordan Spieth is no different.
The 23-year old from Texas won The Open on Sunday after beating Matt Kuchar by three shots in an enthralling final day at Royal Birkdale.
Spieth has shown throughout the week the many different weapons he possesses in his arsenal, but none are more powerful than his mental strength.
There is no doubt that the collapse he suffered at the 2016 Masters would have played on his mind ahead of his final round and one would have hoped that those wounds would not reopen this time around.
Unfortunately, the American could not have made a more nervous start. Three bogeys inside his first four holes set in motion the straight shootout for the Claret Jug between himself and Kuchar.
Spieth did ride out his luck at times on the front nine. On numerous occasions, Kuchar had the opportunity to capatalise on Spieth’s wayward drive shots, but missed crucial putts.
However by the halfway point of the round, Spieth had lost his three shot lead and both players were level on scores.
Then came the 13th hole and something we will never likely see again in a professional tournament.
Spieth’s tee shot went 120 yards wide of the fairway, and after consulting the match officials for no less than 20 minutes, the Texan took a penalty drop and hit a three iron just short of the green.
To the amazement of the Merseyside crowd, commentators, pundits and viewers watching from around the world, the American went on to only score a bogey on a hole that looked to be championship-ending.
He did however surrender the lead to Kuchar, who parred the hole.
Where many would capitulate mentally, Spieth seemed to gain confidence.
The 23-year old went on a mesmerising run, which saw him birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie holes 14-17. The scars from the 2016 Masters were fully healed.
Kuchar tried his best to keep up, but he couldn’t match the skill Spieth was oozing out of his body.
As he made the famous walk up the 18th green, the crowd applauded one of the greatest players in the sport today.
Spieth becomes the second player behind the legendary Jack Nicklaus to win three majors before the age of 24. He is also the youngest Open winner since 22-year-old Seve Ballesteros won the first of his three titles in 1979.
Only the PGA Championship is missing from the Texan’s trophy cabinet, and should he win that in three weeks time, he would complete the grand slam.
The 146th Open saw records tumble, with South African Branden Grace shot an eight-under-par 62 on day three- a major record for the lowest round score ever recorded.
It was also a historic tournament for Chinese golfer Li Haotong. His 63 was a final day highlight, and helped the 21-year old finish third overall. He is without doubt a name for the future.
But the spotlight rightly deserves to shine on Jordan Spieth. He has been the best player over the last four days and is a worthy Open Champion.
The Spaniard has a share of the lead at Augusta alongside Charley Hoffman, Rickie Fowler and Thomas Pieters.
Sergio Garcia is a golfer with a monkey on his back. With 22 top-10 finishes in major championships, it seems the 37-year old has done everything but win one of golf’s big prizes.
However, after scoring a three-under-par 69, the Spaniard is in a good position to challenge for this year’s green jacket.
Along with American Rickie Fowler and Belgian Thomas Pieters, the trio have a share of the Masters’ lead alongside overnight leader Charley Hoffman.
The American shot a three-over-par 75 to knock his score back to -4.
Should Garcia go on to win the tournament on Sunday, it would be a fitting tribute to old friend Seve Ballesteros, who would’ve been celebrating his 60th birthday.
A large amount of the golfing audience has a lot of time for the Spaniard, who is one of the game’s friendliest and most consistent players.
The closest the 34-year old has come to a Masters victory was back in 2004, where he finished tied fourth.
He has also placed runner up twice in the Open back in 2007 and 2014.
A sign of his mental strength occurred during the back nine of his round yesterday, as a scoring error nearly cost him his current position.
Garcia bogeyed the par four 10th, but was hit with a triple-bogey by the scoring system to slip down the leaderboard.
Instead of complaining, the Spaniard carried on playing his game, and when the score was made correct, he birdied holes 15 and 17.
It’s the sort of mentality that major champions have. Day three is projected to have the best weather conditions, making it much easier to score under-par as it has been on days one and two. This could play to Garcia’s advantage.
Even though the Masters can throw up some memorable moments, it can also be a place of nightmares if things go wrong.
That was certainly the case for Danny Willett. The 2016 Masters champion missed the cut, making him the first winner to not make it to the weekend since Canadian Mike Weir in 2004.
The Yorkshireman quadruple-bogeyed the opening hole, followed by two more bogeys on the fourth and 11th.
Other big names who missed the cut include reigning Open champion Henrik Stenson, plus former Masters winners Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson.
The American leads after round one on seven-under-par.
On a day where previous green jacket winners and major champions struggled, Charley Hoffman produced the round of his professional career.
The 40-year old sank nine birdies to score a seven-under-par 65, four shots clear of fellow American William McGirt in second.
They were the only two golfers to finish with a score above 70, but it will be Hoffman that will be on all of the back pages this morning.
Born in San Diego, the Californian has only finished in the top 25 of a major once in his career, back at the 2015 Masters.
After recording a two-under 34 on the front nine, Hoffman hit four consecutive birdies through holes 14, 15, 16 and 17.
His four shot lead is the largest after the opening round at the Masters since 1941.
McGirt is his closet challenger after he made an impressive start to his Masters debut.
The world number 53, who is only one place behind Hoffman in the rankings, is another American that lacks pedigree in the majors.
He missed the cut at both the US Open and The Open last year, before finishing a respectable 10th at the USPGA.
Although two Americans lead, there is a strong field of Englishmen who are only a few shots back and could mount a serious challenge for the green jacket if they continue their fine form into round two.
Lee Westwood hit an eagle on the 13th and sits third on two-under-par, one shot clear of Justin Rose, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Andy Sullivan.
Rory McIlroy finished strongly with three birdies to end the day on even par, as he looks to complete his quest to win the grand slam.
But with powerful gusts and strong winds, the conditions at Augusta were the most difficult they have been in recent history.
It seemed to have an effect on most of the players out on the field, with many battling to try and get round on level par to stay in contention.
This wasn’t a day where the Masters could’ve been won, but it most certainly one where it could’ve been lost.
Those who struggled included two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson (+3), 2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson (+4) and world number four Hideki Matsuyama (+4).
Jordan Spieth quadruple-bogeyed a hole for the second successive round at the Masters. Following his disaster at the 12th in the final round last year – a hole which ultimately cost him a second consecutive green jacket – the 2015 Masters champion struggled this time on the 15th.
The 23-year old needed nine strokes to complete the par-5 hole, and he ended on three-over-par alongside Watson. He will need to provide some more Masters magic if he is to get back into contention.
Some familiar names are among the frontrunners to win in Augusta.
It’s that time of year again. The jaw-dropping scenery of Augusta National will once again be the home of the biggest names in golf, with the 2017 Masters set to begin tomorrow.
Following Danny Willett’s very traditional British champion’s dinner, the players will be practising around the infamous course one last time this evening before the competition begins.
Here are ten players the bookies are favouring to win the opening golf major of 2017.
DUSTIN JOHNSON (11/2)
The world number one is without doubt the favourite going into the tournament. The 32-year old has won his previous three events, the Genesis Open, WGC- Mexico and the WGC-Match Play.
After a sensational 2016, where he won the US Open (the first major win of his career) and helped USA to their first Ryder Cup victory since 2008, the man from South Carolina is hoping to carry on his superb form at a tournament where he has struggled previously. He has only finished in the top 10 twice in the last eight years.
No world number one has won the Masters since Tiger Woods back in 2002.
JORDAN SPIETH (7/1)
Is there any golfer who looks more at home at Augusta than Jordan Spieth? The American won the tournament in 2015, sandwiched between two runner up finishes in 2014 and 2016 respectively. His 2015 success saw him match Wood’s record total of 18-under-par.
The 23-year old has made an indifferent start to the 2017 season. His win at Pebble Beach back on the 9th February was the last time he finished in the top 10 of an event on the PGA Tour. But if there is one place he can turn his form around, it’s the Masters.
RORY MCILROY (8/1)
The Northern Irishman is said to be confident ahead of this year’s tournament. The 27-year old needs just the green jacket in order to complete the Grand Slam. However, Augusta has proved to not be such a happy hunting ground for him.
In 2011, he shot the worst round recorded by the leader of the Masters going into the final round. His round of 80 saw him slip from first to tied 15th.
McIlroy has not really been in any contention to win the tournament since then, but with that objective to win all for majors serving as his motivation, that could change this time around.
JASON DAY (16/1)
The former world number one will play at the tournament following his mother’s cancer diagnosis. In fact, it seems to have made him more determined to win.
The 2015 USPGA champion insists victory this week in Augusta would ‘dwarf the emotion of winning his maiden major’.
Day didn’t play at the WGC-Match Play so that he could be with his mother before she had lung surgery, but the Australian seems ready to battle for the green jacket.
The 29-year old has not got a bad record at the Masters either, finishing in the top 10 three times in the last six years.
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA (18/1)
The 25-year old has become Japan’s golfing prodigy. The Japanese golfer has four PGA Tour wins to his name and has seemed destined to challenge for a major in the near future.
At Augusta, he finished fifth in 2015 and tied for seventh last year. This has made him a name hot on everyones lips going into the tournament.
But recently his form has not been to the level many expect of him. Since winning the Phoenix Open in February, Matsuyama has not finished any higher than 25th at an event.
RICKIE FOWLER (20/1)
Matsuyama was drawn alongside Fowler for this year’s opening two rounds, and the American is a man hoping to finally break his major duck.
The 28-year old came runner up at both the US Open and The Open during his career to date.
As his game has developed, so has his maturity when approaching each shot, making a far dangerous player when he hits top form. The closest he came to a green jacket was back in 2012, where he came fifth.
JON RAHM (22/1)
Young Spanish golfer Jon Rahm has moved up in odds under the radar. Rahm turned Pro last year and has radically climbed up the rankings.
In a matter of only 10 months, Rahm has climbed up from 539 to world number 12 ahead of the Masters.
The 22-year old has one PGA Tour win to his name, the Farmers Insurance Open in January this year.
JUSTIN ROSE (25/1)
The 2013 US Open and current Olympic champion tied second in this tournament two years ago with a respectable 14-under par.
The Hampshire-based golfer failed to make it into the top 10 of his last three events.
PHIL MICKELSON (25/1)
One of America’s most successful golfers, Phil Mickelson is a name that will always pop in when it comes to major contenders.
The three-time Masters Champion is a veteran when compared to the younger men in the field, but with that trusted left hand of his, anything could happen.
ADAM SCOTT (30/1)
The 36-year old won the green jacket back in 2013, becoming the first Australian to complete the feat.
However, since his victorious year, the one-time major winner has struggled to replicate his 2013 performance at Augusta, and has failed to make the top 10 for the past three years.
OTHER NOTABLE GOLFERS
Henrik Stenson (Open Champion 2016) 30/1
Bubba Watson (Masters Champion 2012 and 2014) 40/1
The 23-year old has already won two PGA Tour events this season and looks ready to take centre stage at the majors.
Justin Thomas is relatively unknown to golf fans in Europe who don’t necessarily follow the PGA Tour.
But it won’t be too long until the 23-year old from Kentucky becomes the subject of every conversation.
It’s only be a matter of time before the American will be competing for major championships. When you watch him, a younger Jordan Spieth will instantly pop into your mind. The one who rose through the rankings at a ferocious pace a few years back before winning the Masters and US Open in 2015.
Thomas has the whole package in terms of a modern-day golfer. He can whack the ball off the tee for more than 300 yards- which is a must these days if you want to win one of these events- and an impressive short game which coincides perfectly with his driving ability.
The young prodigy is also very sensible when selecting his shots. Along with his caddie, the 23-year old always thinks about the environment around him. He thinks about the wind speed, surrounding rough, water hazards, bunkers and how the ball will react on the green.
He also takes into consideration his physiological state. His adrenaline to succeed plays a key factor on the young man’s decision making. This is what makes him so good, and it is why he is winning tournaments.
His win on Sunday at the SBS Tournament of Champions in Kapalua comes after he retained the CIMB Classic in Malaysia last October.
Thomas’s win last weekend also moved him up to 12th in the world rankings.
The impressive start to the season sees him second in the early Fedex Cup standings, just 36 points behind Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.
Thomas was unlucky to miss out at last year’s Ryder Cup, but the young prodigy will certainly be one of the first players on Team USA for this year’s Presidents Cup, which takes place at the Liberty National in New Jersey in late September.
Some have called for him to be paired with long-term friend Spieth in that competition, should both be fit and selected. That friendship could be tested though in the four majors which precede the Presidents Cup.
Spieth’s two major titles in 2015 have spurned Thomas on even more recently to improve his game, resulting in three PGA Tour titles within the last 15 months.
Although its been a short career thus far, the 23-year old looks more than ready to win his maiden major.
The Masters is the first to arrive in April, and the Tournament of Champions winner will no doubt be suited to the famous Augusta golf course with its slick fairways and greens.
His consistency levels over the four-day events are phenomenal. If he is playing well in the opening round, he will more than likely play well all weekend.
One things for certain, the PGA Tour is a gruelling 10 month slog in which keeping your performance above average is becoming increasingly difficult. At some point, Thomas will find himself struggling to make cuts consistently.
That will be a true sign of whether or not he is major championship worthy. Can he climb out of a hole should one appear beneath him. We have seen past champions sail into the distance after winning one. Just look at Charl Schwartzel, Webb Simpson and Graeme McDowell.
But Thomas is still a baby compared to other players in the field. He has a lot still to learn before he reaches his peak. There is no doubt in my mind that this man will go on to win multiple major championships.
The 23-year old is back in action this weekend alongside Matsuyama, Spieth and Olympic champion Justin Rose at the Sony Open in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Two players lead at the halfway mark, with Jordan Spieth ending his second round in frustration.
T1 Moore, Thomas (-12)
T3 Reed, Walker (-11)
5 Dufner (-10)
After both hit six-under-par on Thursday, Justin Thomas and Ryan Moore were grouped together for round two. Both seemed to play off one another, as they recorded mirror scorecards. Each carded seven birdies and one bogey to end the day 12-under-par.
Thomas continues to build on his fine start to the 2016-17 PGA Tour season. He is currently second in the standings after his CIMB Classic victory, and his casual stroke-play on the 17th and 18th holes showed us the confidence this young 23-year old is currently waltzing around the Plantation course with.
Playing partner Moore was bogey free on the final nine, scoring five birdies. The 34-year old is currently ranked 51st in the world. A consistent start to the season has seen him finish within the top 25 in each of the three events he has played so far. A breakthrough 2016 season saw him debut in the Ryder Cup for USA.
PATRICK REED SHOOTS ROUND OF THE DAY
2015 Tournament of Champions winner Patrick Reed has always fared well in Kapalua. The American continued that trend as he carded a bogey free round, with a score of eight-under-par. The world number eight hit three consecutive birdies through three, four and five, with four more in the last five holes.
Reed hit every green in regulation for the first time in his PGA career on a day where he also only missed one fairway. He is now only one shot off the lead on 11-under-par, tied with round one leader Jimmy Walker in third.
Both contested a play-off in this event two years ago, with Reed coming out on top. Yesterday was another day that saw Walker fall by the wayside with a disappointing round of three-under-par.
The USPGA champion saw too many putts flirt around the cup, and dropped a shot on the 17th when he overhit his wedge shot to land past the green. A crucial birdie on the final hole might boost his confidence going into the weekend.
BETTER FROM JASON DAY, LESS SO FOR SPIETH
World number one Jason Day is playing in his first event since September, and after a slow yet steady start on Thursday, the Australian picked up his game in round two.
Day ended on seven-under, after carding four-under-par. Aside from his bogey on the par four 13th, the Aussie hit five birdies, three of which came on par-fives.
A bogey-free third round from the world number one could see him back in contention on the final day.
The same can’t be said for Spieth. The defending champion struck nine birdies on Friday, with five coming consecutively between holes nine to 13.
However, the 23-year old also carded a double bogey on the par three eighth, and a triple bogey on the par four 17th, to end the day on five-under-par.
Seven shots down, the Texas-born world number five will need to shoot a 62 or 63 to get back in the race, but he sounded very deflated when talking to the media after his performance, claiming his tournament “was effectively over.”
US PGA champion Jimmy Walker leads after a bogey-free first round, with Jason Day and Jordan Speith making slow starts in Hawaii.
1 WALKER -8
T2 MOORE, HERMAN, THOMAS -6
T5 DUFNER, BERGER -5
In what were ideal conditions, except for the occasional light rain shower, Jimmy Walker hit two birdies on the par-five 15th and par-five 18th for a two shot lead in the opening PGA Tour event of 2017.
Walker – who lost in a playoff with Patrick Reed in Kapalua two years ago – hit one eagle, six birdies and 11 pars at the Plantation course this time around to shoot 65.
In the off-season, Walker shortened his driver to try and improve his game off the tee. But with a driving accuracy of just 73.3%, it was his shots with the irons, wedges and putter that were the stars of the show.
His opening round ended with a GIR score of 94.4%, the joint highest in the round alongside Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.
With his impressive record in PGA Events taking place in Hawaii, little would look past Walker to avenge that 2015 defeat to Reed this weekend.
OTHER NOTABLE PERFORMANCES
Justin Thomas: The 23-year old and world number 22 followed up his CIMB Classic victory with a six-under-par 67. His four birdies in five holes during the middle of his round eased the pressure off the young American, who made a slow yet steady start with seven consecutive pars.
Rod Pampling: One of the most experience men competing in the Tournament of Champions this year is Australia’s Pampling. The 47-year-old hasn’t competed in this competition for a decade, but you wouldn’t of thought it as he hit a four-under-par 69. He is tied seventh alongside world number six Matsuyama and US Open champion Dustin Johnson.
SPIETH AND DAY STRUGGLE TO GET GOING
It wasn’t the start to 2017 neither the world number one or the current defending champion would’ve wanted.
Spieth won this event last year with a score of -30. He will need to hit two majestic rounds if he is to get anywhere near that score again. Two bogeys on the back nine looked to deflate the former Masters and US Open champ, but his birdie on the 18th crucially see the 23-year old get into gear.
Day managed to end the day on three-under-par, but the Aussie did hit a bogey on the second hole to get off to a sluggish start. Birdies on both the 13th, 14th and 15th seemed to have rescued the round, only for the number one to hit a bogey six on the final hole.
If there is one sporting event that America is desperate to win, it’s this weekend’s Ryder Cup.
USA have seemingly been in Europe’s shadow in recent times, having only won the competition once in the last eight attempts (2008).
This year’s edition is set to be USA’s most opportune to finally claw back some of the pride that has been lost through their last three outings.
After losing to Colin Montgomerie’s Europe in 2010 at Celtic Manor, the world witnessed an incredible turnaround which the European media entitled: ‘The miracle at Medinah’. Martin Kaymer successfully putted the ball to complete one of the greatest sporting comebacks in modern sporting history.
Two years ago was arguably the worst the Americans have played at a Ryder Cup, with Europe winning comfortably 16.5 – 11.5.
Europe have an incentive of their own however. Since the introduction of a continental team back in 1979, Europe have never won the Ryder Cup four times consecutively.
Although on paper the USA team looks as strong as ever, the Europeans may fancy their chances with the majority of the team in decent form going into the weekend.
Let’s meet the teams.
Captain: Darren Clarke
Vice Captains: Thomas Bjorn, Padraig Harington, Paul Lawrie, Ian Poulter, Sam Torrence
Clarke has featured in five of these tournaments as a player and brings some key experience to what is a team full of Ryder Cup rookies. Having only lost in one Ryder Cup he has competed in (1999) he will be looking to add to all that success as a captain. Let’s not forget he is a former Open Championship winner and he did lead Europe to victory earlier this year in the 2016 EurAsia cup.
His vice-captaincy selections are to me spot on. Bjorn has never lost a Ryder Cup match in his career and was also a vice captain for 3 previous Ryder Cups under Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie, and José Maria Olazábal.
The mix of youth and experience is key for the players out there doing the dirty work, so to have the likes of Ian Poulter and Sam Torrence in your corner is always a bonus.
Golfers: Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer (Captain’s Pick), Rory McIlroy, Thomas Pieters (Captain’s Pick), Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Andy Sullivan, Lee Westwood (Captain’s Pick), Danny Willett, Chris Wood.
Team Europe may contain three of the current top 10 in the world rankings (McIlroy, Stenson and Willett) but it’s a team full of debutants.
Six of the 12 representing Europe are contesting their first Ryder Cup and to go to the States is no easy task. They can expect an atmosphere like no other on a golf course- hostile to put it lightly.
Saying that, there are champions in this team. Willett won the Masters earlier in the year, with Stenson claiming his first major title at the Open in July and McIlroy winning the FedEX cup only last weekend.
Captain picks Westwood and Kaymer bring that needed Ryder Cup experience with them. They will be the players Europe hope can score points in the opening couple of sessions to ease the nerves.
The rookies all bring something to the table. Cabrera Bello is one of the most consistent on the European Tour, Fitzpatrick is only 22 years old and is already a European Tour event winner. Sullivan proved his worth in the EurAsia Cup, winning three out of three matches.
Some will look at the rookies and question whether the team can cope, however I think that Europe has a strong, well-balanced team and will push America right up until the final day.
Main Concern: The inexperience of the team.
Main Strength: The motivational skills of the Captains, playing and supporting as a team.
Captain: Davis Love III
Vice Captains: Jim Furyk, Tom Lehman, Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods
Love III becomes the eighth American to captain a Ryder Cup team more than once, but will look to do better than in 2012 where his team collapsed in the Singles. The 1997 PGA Champion played in six Ryder Cups as a player and has 21 titles to his name on the PGA Tour.
The American vice captains are some of the best golfers the country has had in recent times, with the most notable being the infamous Tiger Woods. With 79 PGA titles and 14 major championships to his name, Woods knows a thing or two about winning on the big occasion, however his Ryder Cup record is shocking. He has only won one in seven he has taken part in. Some will be surprised by Watson’s selection as a Vice Captain, having been a regular for the team in both the Olympics this summer and President’s Cup last year. The two time Masters Champion played under Love III in 2012.
Golfers: Rickie Fowler (Captain’s Pick), J.B. Holmes (Captain’s Pick), Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar (Captain’s Pick), Phil Mickelson, Ryan Moore (Captain’s Pick), Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker
The American team features four of the top 10 in the world rankings (D. Johnson, Spieth, Reed, Fowler) and boasts a side full of major championship winners.
Phil Mickelson plays in his 11th Ryder Cup, the most appearances by any American in the competition and provides two players worth of experience. His opening round at The Open in July was one to just admire and more showings like that this week will put the USA team in a strong position.
Dustin Johnson and Jimmy Walker both won their maiden Major titles this year (US and PGA respectively). Johnson’s devastating driving distances always sets himself up nicely for a birdie or even an eagle.
The captain picks similarly to Europe provide experience in Matt Kuchar and J.B. Holmes, so the head to head between them and Westwood/Kaymer could be a decisive factor as to where the trophy will be heading come Sunday.
Main Concern: Too many individuals. Can they work well as a team especially with the pressure that comes with being tournament favourites.
Main Strength: Arguably the strongest USA squad to play in a Ryder Cup (on paper).
The Ryder Cup is being held at the Hazeltine Golf Course in Minnesota. This is a tough course to get to know quickly, with the last major championship taking place here back in 2009. Half of the holes have water hazards surrounding the fairways/roughs/greens and with a par score of just 71, one cannot afford to see their ball go for a dip.
This course is best suited to long distance drivers, as the course stretches over 7,000 yards. The likes of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy will be licking their lips at the prospect of driving down this course.
Be mindful of the seventh hole, a hole Johnny Miller (a two-time major winner) called the ‘toughest par four he has ever played’. The tee shot must carry 220 yards over Hazeltine Lake while the green itself is a raised peninsula which falls off on all sides.
When Hazeltine hosted the US Open in 1970, nearly half of the field failed to break 80 in the first round. The course received much negative press as a result.
The way the course is laid out it will take a miracle for this to be over before Sunday. Each and every session in the Foursomes and Fourballs will be crucial as both teams will want a significant lead going into the singles on Sunday. Europe may be in confident mood, but I think this course suits the American team more.
More importantly, the American team know what the Ryder Cup is about, for 6 rookies to go to America and beat the USA in their own backyard with the hostile crowd, would in my opinion top the European victory in 2012.
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.
Part six of my bio doesn’t really go into Seve’s golfing career on the course. This segment looks more into his problems with his back, his ‘playboy’ manners and his other hobbies off the greens of the golf course.
Part 6: ‘ The Lady Pleaser with a Sore Back’
“The real burden for my back was the physical pain that became even more annoying and crippling.”
For all of Ballesteros’ success on the golf course, he suffered physically. After an accident as a young boy left him hobbling around for a couple of weeks as well as caddying at the Padreña club, Ballesteros’ back was taking its toll.
Ballesteros admitted he struggled through his major wins and Ryder Cup triumphs. And in 1993, he had enough.
The Spaniard and his family travelled to Scottsdale, Arizona, for treatment. He undertook the treatments for a couple of months with no significant improvements.
This wasn’t the first time he suffered a set back in dealing with his back problem. In 1977 after the Spanish under-25 championship, Seve went to see Dr. Carbajosa. He advised Ballesteros to give up golf for a year.
Seve admitted that if he listened, he might not have suffered again with back problems. But the thought of no golf for a year was unbearable. And arguably he wouldn’t have been as successful as he was if he listened to the Madrid doctor.
In 1995, Ballesteros went to Florida to have an operation on his back. Again this failed to sort out the problem.
Seve even travelled to Germany to meet Dr. Hans-Wolfgang Müller. The German doctor had treated the likes of Boris Becker, Linford Christie, Michael Owen and the Bayern Munich football team. Even his treatments didn’t make any improvement on Seve’s back.
In the end, Seve gave up on treating his back, and instead looked to workouts and swimming to at least numb the pain.
“When a lad has pretty girls following them around the golf course. It gives them extra motivation. More then once I tried to impress them. They seduced me.”
Before marrying his wife, Ballesteros was seen as a slight playboy by his peers. He recalls seeing ‘Miss Texas’ or Christy. When they travelled together Christy was impressed on how people looked at Seve. However reality it Ballesteros would remind her it wasn’t him they were making googly eyes at.
Seve also saw an unnamed princess from northern Europe. They would spend a lot of time together when their paths crossed in Barcelona. They went sightseeing and the princess even suspended a flight home to spend more time with Ballesteros.
But no one was as close to Ballesteros than his wife, Carmen. She was his “true love.”
“I liked hunting, as it was a popular sport in Northern Spain. I also liked boxing and football, as most Spanish men do.”
Seve had hobbies outside golf. He admired Muhammad Ali, like the millions who did watching him in the ring.
He also was a supporter of Racing Santander football club, a yo-yo team in the Spanish first and second division. He would go to as many games as he could when he was home.
Seve had better connections though with the biggest club in the world, Real Madrid. Offered the best seats in the house, a trip to Madrid was regular for the football fans of the Ballesteros family.
Away from golf, his life wasn’t too shabby. He spent more time with his family from the mid 90s. He won his last title in golf in 1995, and from then, began to fall slowly away from the top of the golfing ladder.
Seve admitted that if he listened, he might not have suffered again with back problems. But the thought of no golf for a year was unbearable. And arguably he wouldn’t have been as successful as he was if he listened to the Madrid doctor.