|Seve Ballesteros (1957-2011)|
Yesterday, at the Medinah Country Club in Chicago, Illinois, the 39th Ryder Cup ended in an improbable fashion. The European Team, captained by Jose Maria Olazabal, came back from an almost insurmountable point deficit to beat the US team 14.5 to 13.5. I say almost insurmountable because they did it. They won and won large. The tournament was special because it was so upside down when compared with previous Ryder Cups and the way the teams have normally played. This time, the Europeans, normally the best at team play, went into the weekend down 10 points to 6, with Team USA looking nothing like the individualistic, egotistic players who normally played poorly in the first two days which was dominated by team play but then cleaned up on Sunday when they would play their singles matches. This time, the Americans faltered where they are usually very, very strong and wound up losing 8 of the 12 singles matches, tying one and winning only 3. The Europeans blistered the Americans on Sunday, with all of the big names in the game; Woods, Mickelson, Furyk, Stricker, Watson (Bubba, for you old guys), Bradley, Simpson, Snedeker, Kuchar all going down to defeat or halving the matches.
For those of you who don't watch golf, the Ryder Cup may not be familiar to you. It was a competition started in 1927 to foster competition among Great Britain and the United States. European players joined the Ryder Cup competition in 1979. Played every two years either in Europe or in the United States, the match consists of a 3 day competition with four rounds of golf played by 12 players on each side. The first two days consists of team play, either four-ball matches, where each player plays their own ball and the team records the best net score on the hole, or a foursomes match, where each team's players alternate hitting the shots into the green. On Sunday, the teams square up 12 against 12 in a singles competition. The scoring is match-play versus stroke play. Match play means they play to win the hole versus accumulating a score over the entire 18 holes. You win the match if you win more holes than your competitor.
This year was a special Ryder Cup match because it was the first since the passing of the great Spanish Player, Seve Ballesteros. Seve was a remarkable player in the late 1970's through the 1980's. He was flamboyant, fearless and had a great deal of charisma. He was the youngest winner of the British Open in 1979 at age 22, and went on to win 5 major championships including two Masters and 3 Open (British) championships as well as 91 won professional tournaments. Seve was the "Arnold Palmer" of European golf, no one was as wild off the tee, inventive in the rough or devastatingly good around the greens. He brought European golf to the forefront in terms of tournament attendance and television ratings more than any other person. Seve was an inventive player, prone to gamesmanship and massive emotion on the course. His face never lied to you in terms of how he was feeling at the moment. Golf is typically considered a staid, cool and yes boring game. Not when Seve was around. Seve won a major championship once after hitting a ball from a parking lot onto the green an gaining a birdie. He flamed out brilliantly as well. In the 1986 Masters, well known because Nicklaus came roaring back to life after hibernating for 6 years to win, it was Ballesteros who helped him more than anyone. Going into the 15th hole, Seve was leading the tournament, then proceed to go for the green on a shot that he really didn't need to reach in order to win. He promptly knocked the ball in the water and fell out of contention in the tournament finishing fourth..
Seve was instrumental in reviving the Ryder Cup into the massive competition it is today. As described in his Wikipedia entry: "For much of the 1980s and 1990s, Ballesteros was a mainstay of the European Ryder Cup team. He scored 22½ points in 37 matches against the United States; his partnership with fellow Spaniard José María Olazábal was the most successful in the history of the competition, with 11 wins and two halved matches out of 15 pairs matches. While Ballesteros was a member of European sides that won the Ryder Cup in 1985, retained the Cup in 1987 and 1989, and regained the Cup in 1995, the pinnacle of his career in the competition came in 1997, when he captained the winning European side at Valderrama Golf Club in Sotogrande, Spain. This was the first Ryder Cup ever held in continental Europe."