Ballesteros makes a lasting impression


GONE, BUT not forgotten. As the 12 European players yesterday exited the imposing Medinah clubhouse, a building that resembles a mosque, the silhouetted image of Seve Ballesteros emblazoned on each of their golf bags added a spiritualism of its own. Gone, departed, but still a part of them.

As Europe’s captain José Maria Olazabal – the other part of the so-called Spanish Armada – observed, “this was one way that Seve could be with us every step of the way . . . a fitting tribute to a true champion and a great friend”.

The same iconic image, formed out of Ballesteros’s celebration of his British Open triumph at St Andrews, had become his business logo and had been tattooed on the Spanish maestro’s left arm in life. In death, it had been revived to inspire a team of a new generation.

If Olazabal’s relationship with Ballesteros – who passed away 16 months ago – was, obviously, the closest of friendships, then the story related yesterday by Justin Rose probably best illustrated how Europe’s talismanic figure had managed to bridge the generations. Rose, who turned professional after a fourth-place finish in the 1998 British Open and then missed 21 consecutive cuts at the start of his pro career, related how Ballesteros had been one of those elder statesmen on tour to impart wisdom to the young player seeking to live up to his reputation.

“He was one of the few guys when I was struggling on tour when I first turned pro, he was one of the few guys to put his arm around me, more metaphorically, and give me some words of encouragement. I remember my first Masters [in 2003], he just said ‘well done’ because it was a breakthrough for me. I had turned pro, gone through some struggles and then achieved some success to get there. He was really nice and complimentary,” recalled Rose.

One of more prized possessions in the Rose household is of Justin and his mother talking with Ballesteros at Augusta that year. “You can see my mom blushing . . . Seve was a special character. I played with him, against him, in the Seve Trophy. I got to know him well. And one of my favourite memories was winning my first tournament [on the US Tour], the Memorial [in 2010] and Seve was being honoured that year.

“A couple of times during that win, I had some tough short-game shots and Seve sprang to mind and I was trying to picture how Seve would have tried to play the shot. He was definitely with me that week and I got a couple of them up-and-down [to win]. One of my greatest keepsakes is the book from the Memorial that Jack [Nicklaus] signed to me and Seve also signed. I’d relayed the story to Seve about how I thought of him and he wrote back and I got him to sign my book. That’s something I will cherish forever,” said Rose.

The decision to put Ballesteros’s iconic image on each player’s bag was an inspired one, recognising the contribution made by the five-time Major champion in transforming the Ryder Cup from an exhibition into a fiercely-contested match. Ballesteros played in eight Ryder Cups and won 22½ points from his 37 matches, including a record 11 wins and two halves from 15 matches when paired in foursomes and fourballs with Olazabal. Ballesteros also captained Europe to victory at Valderrama in 1997.

The idea to use Seve’s image on the bag came to Olazabal in the early stages of his captaincy. “The silhouette was pretty obvious, he always said that was the sweetest moment in his career, winning at St Andrews [in 1984], making that putt to beat Tom Watson . . . it’s tough for me, but it’s the first time Seve is not going to be with us at the Ryder Cup. I miss the phone call he did to the team in 2010 at Celtic Manor. He has meant a lot to me and to the team and I wanted to have something that was present to every player.

“So, every time somebody gets to grab a club or something from the bag, [they] can see the silhouette. As soon as we started deciding the materials and the shape of the bag, we had the idea we wanted to have a couple of spots available [for Seve’s image].”

So it was that a permanent image – one on the front, one on the back – is visible on each of the 12 European bags. It has met with the approval of all the players. As Rose put it, “with José Maria, you have Seve Ballesteros in terms of a link and as a partnership in the Ryder Cup.”

Gone, but definitely not forgotten.

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