Powerful argument for Ryder Cup match to be in Spain

Six days after the funeral of Severiano Ballesteros, which will take place on Wednesday in his home town of Pedrena, northern Spain, the European Tour will announce the host venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup.

There could be no greater tribute to Ballesteros than to take it back to Spain, 21 years after El Matador, as captain, led Europe to a narrow victory over the United States at Valderrama.

Five countries have submitted bids – France, Spain, Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands – with the French widely regarded as favourites to host the biennial competition. At Le Golf National, just outside Versailles, they have a wonderful course in place and the backing of a government prepared to pull out all the stops.

But the Spanish bid, centred on Madrid and with the high-profile support over the past 18 months of Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, the next captain, is a particularly strong one. Now there is certain to be an emotional pull as well.

Ballesteros had his run-ins with the European Tour over the years, accusing its leaders of running a “mafia-like” operation and of trying to run down the Seve Trophy, a Ryder Cup-style competition between Continental Europe and Great Britain & Ireland that he helped to set up. Now, perhaps, is the time to honour him properly for his massive contribution to the game in Europe and beyond.

From the moment that Ballesteros, who died in the early hours of Saturday morning at 54 after a two-year battle with brain cancer, was persuaded by Tony Jacklin, the team captain, to take up the cudgels once more for Europe in 1983, he treated the biennial Ryder Cup match as a personal crusade. He breathed life into a competition that was once dying on its feet.

Ask any European player today what his ambitions are and he will tell you that he wants to win major championships and play in the Ryder Cup. Ballesteros proved that you could take the fight to the Americans and come out on top. He did it by twice winning the Masters, becoming world No1 and helping Europe to their first win on US soil, at Muirfield Village in 1987.

With Olazabal he formed the “Spanish Armada”, the most successful partnership in the history of the competition and, in eight matches as a player, was on the winning side three times. The Ryder Cup coursed through his veins.

When Europe lost by a solitary point in the US in 1983, Ballesteros chastised his team-mates for being so downcast in the locker room. “What is the matter with you?” he shouted. “This has been a great victory, a great, great victory. This proves we can beat them. We must celebrate.” It was a turning point from which Europe did not look back.

“That was the spark: Seve in 1983,” Nick Faldo said. “By 1985 we knew we could do it, we could win the Ryder Cup.” In 13 matches since then, Europe have won eight, tied one to retain the Cup and lost four.

In an interview with The Times just before the match at Celtic Manor in October last year, Ballesteros still displayed the passion that drove him on as a player. It is why he was asked to speak to the team on the eve of the match via a video link-up and why so many of the team were moved to tears but inspired to “do it for Seve”.

His dream was to see the Ryder Cup return to Spain and to hit the first shot off the 1st tee. “That would be fantastic,” he said. “I’d be very proud.”

While he accepted that his country had already hosted the match, he felt it was right to return to a country that had provided at least one player for the team in every Ryder Cup since 1979 – the year selection was broadened to include players from continental Europe as well as the British Isles.

“Madrid has everything the Ryder Cup needs,” he said. “We will design a course that will be good for players, spectators and the people of Madrid.

“We have a wonderful city, one of the great cities of Europe. The infrastructure is already in place, as is all the support of the community. If the committee choose Madrid, they will have made the right choice.”

With all the bids in place, Richard Hills, the Ryder Cup director, admitted that “all five could have hosted the 2018 Ryder Cup, based on the detail and quality of their bids”.

Bidding nations had to satisfy five criteria, among them “the contribution of the host nation to the development of golf”. With seven tournaments in Spain this year alone and with the legacy of Ballesteros, Madrid’s bid will deserve serious consideration.

Will the momentum given to the bid by Ballesteros’s passing be enough to force a rethink on the matter were Madrid already to have lost out behind closed doors? The tour is not telling.

In the meantime, the world is coming to terms with the passing of one of the greatest and most charismatic players the game has seen. In Cantabria, the region where Ballesteros was born, authorities declared three days of official mourning.

And in Pedrena, where he lived and died, fans draped the walls of his home with flags, scarves, golf clubs and balls bearing messages. It was a small tribute to a sporting giant. Perhaps it is time for an even greater one. — The Times News Service, London


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