Ryder Cup lacks a Seve to put fire in our bellies
TIPPING POINT:This is the first Ryder Cup since the passing of Seve Ballesteros. The perennial event could do with some of his charisma and pomp, writes BRIAN O'CONNOR
WHAT DID the Yanks ever do to Spain? You know, besides run up San Juan Hill: and that Cuban barney wasn’t so much a war as a tiff. It’s not like B-29s ever buzzed Madrid half a century later on the back of it. Instead Eisenhower dropped in for a visit. Nixon thought Franco was great, called him a true friend of America. The Generalissimo might have been a fascist loon but one thing he was not was a goddam commie.
Franco hadn’t much time for the province of Cantabria and probably never even heard of the tiny village of Pedrena. But its most famous citizen was no fan of “Los Yanquis”. In fact Seve Ballesteros spent much of his glittering career defining himself by what Americans thought about him, or what he thought they thought about him.
That “car-park champion” tag bugged the golfing matador more than was healthy. The fact they later invited him to leave the PGA tour for the hardly irrelevant reason that he failed to show up for enough tournaments sent Ballesteros “tonto”. And Seve angry was a sight to behold.
Even to those of us who would rather cuddle a urinary-tract infection than watch golf, the great man’s charisma was undeniable. Ballesteros was a sporting force of nature. And it was the Ryder Cup’s great fortune that its full visceral Yank-loathing fury revolved around the biennial whirlwind of trans-continental flag-waving between Europe and the United States.
Seve defined the modern-day Ryder Cup beast. Before he came along, the US were content to show up every couple of years, beat the snot out of GB and Ire, and go home after a nice week off, back to the tournament play that mattered.
But Ballesteros was so good, GB and Ire morphed into Europe, a move that initially promised not so much to change the result but at least narrow the winning margin a bit. Except Seve made it resoundingly personal, and in doing so created something of a metal-wooded, v-necked monster. He was never one to do things by halves.
Ballesteros won five Majors, one less than Nick Faldo. But it is the Spaniard who remains undisputedly the most important European golfer ever. One of the main reasons for that is that he was the trail-blazer, the one who believed absolutely he was perfectly entitled to beat the top Americans. The other is that he managed to sufficiently inculcate that entitlement to a bunch of comparably middle-of-the-road colleagues and so turned the Ryder Cup into a meaningful contest.