MEDINAH, Ill. – No golfer epitomized the spirit of European golf like the late Severiano Ballesteros. The Spaniard did for European golf what Arnold Palmer did for golf in America. And his presence will be felt in every shot this week at the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club, European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said.
This is the first Ryder Cup without Ballesteros, who died from a brain tumor in May 2011. Olazabal made sure that his mentor, the five-time major winner, wouldn’t be forgotten by including an iconic image of Ballesteros on the European team bags. You know the one – the silhouette depicting Ballesteros’ right arm punching the air after holing the winning putt at the 1984 Open Championship at St. Andrews.
“He always said that that was the sweetest moment in his career,” Olazabal said.
Ballesteros later had the image tattooed to his left forearm.
“Every time somebody gets to grab a club or something from the bag, they can see the silhouette,” Olazabal said. “I thought it was important for us to have Seve’s memory and presence during this week.”
European team member Graeme McDowell described it as “a touch of class.”
Ballesteros became synonymous with the Ryder Cup as an eight-time member and victorious captain in 1997. He was the heart and soul of the European team. Seve’s tenacity, fearlessness and fanatical desire to succeed helped make him one of the greatest match players of all time.
Olazabal and Ballesteros teamed to form the Spanish Armada, the most successful partnership in Ryder Cup history. They lost just two of their 15 matches together.
When Olazabal was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2009, he saved Seve for last and spoke with deep affection of what his countryman meant to him:
“There’s one more person that I want to thank, and that is my dear friend, Seve,” Olazabal said. “He deserves it. He gave me a call when I was 15 years old.
“Not many people know this, and he gave me a call and asked me to play in a match, in a charity match against him at his home club in Pedrena. And I said, ‘Yes,’ without knowing the implications of that answer in my future career. Something happened really special – something really special happened that day. I don’t know what it was, but it was truly special. Because a few years later, I played in my first Ryder Cup at Muirfield Village. I was a 21-year-old boy, and the captain, I guess, didn’t know what to do with me.
“And Seve approached the captain, Tony Jacklin, and said, ‘Tony, I will play with Ollie.’ And the rest is history. I was never a genius like you, Seve, but I did the best I could. And as my mentor, all I can hope for is that you’re proud of me. 28 years ago you opened a circle, and somehow that circle closes today.”
A beautiful tribute then and a beautiful gesture now by Olazabal to keep Seve’s legacy alive.