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Tom English: The trouble with the Seve Trophy

Swedens Alexander Noren plays a shot during the third days foursomes at the 2011 Seve Trophy. Picture: Getty

Swedens Alexander Noren plays a shot during the third days foursomes at the 2011 Seve Trophy. Picture: Getty

  • by TOM ENGLISH
 

Surely there is a better way for golf to remember the greatness of Seve Ballesteros than the second-class tournament that bears his name. The Seve Trophy is a problem.

The finest Europeans don’t play in it. Sponsors don’t want much to do with it. Crowds can take it or leave it. It has no edge and no passion and no real relevance. It is the polar opposite of what Ballesteros represented.

Of course, we want it to be wondrous. We want Seve’s memory to be honoured with a colossal rivalry that would be in keeping with the way he played the game, but this isn’t it. We want Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter and Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald and Lee Westwood to play in it, but they won’t be in Paris next week just like many of the big names weren’t in Paris in 2011 and 2009 or in Ireland in 2007 and 2005. In all the recent editions of the Seve Trophy, too many marquee Ryder Cup players have been absent and the credibility of the thing has ebbed away to its current diminished state.

Paul Lawrie was correct last week when criticising the stay-away stars. It’s all very well these guys wearing Seve’s silhouette on the European gear at Medinah and evoking his memory and his inspiration time and time again. They were devoted to Seve but, when it comes to tweaking their schedules to appear in his tournament, then their devotion runs out.

Lawrie was spot on when pointing out the double standards of some of his fellow Medinah heroes but his words won’t change anything.

Lawrie is hardly the first to voice his disappointment about box office Europeans not backing up their reverential talk about Seve and his impact on their professional lives with attendance at the tournament that meant so much to him. Every playing of the Seve Trophy brings a new rendition of the Seve lament. “Where are all the big names? Why are they not backing this tournament? Isn’t it a shame?”

It’s all pretty sad. It’s like the begging bowl is out on behalf of the late Spaniard. You want Europe’s finest to be in Paris but only if they want to be there, not because they feel they have to be there because of peer pressure or because they’re getting grief from some punters on social media, as happened last week with Poulter and Westwood.

In fairness to the pair of Englishmen, they have both played in the Seve Trophy a number of times since its inception in 2000 – they both played in 2011, for instance – which is more than can be said of Donald, who has never played in it, and Garcia, who hasn’t appeared in the event in a decade. Ballesteros had a public falling-out with his countryman around that time. Garcia, so Seve claimed, had asked for money to play in the Trophy and was told there wasn’t any. The players are paid nowadays – the prize fund next week is ¤1.75m – but Garcia hasn’t played in the event since 2003.

It’s been an ill-starred thing almost from the start. The early years brought most of the big names and decent crowds, but low-rent controversies have dogged it in the time since. In 2003, Padraig Harrington and Jose Maria Olazabal had a spat when Harrington objected to Olazabal repairing a spike mark on a green. Olazabal was still being asked about the argument in the lead-up to Medinah last year. In 2005, Ballesteros had to hand a letter of apology to every player in the Great Britain & Ireland and European sides after he said in an interview that none of them impressed him. Charming.

Two years later, in Ireland, paltry crowds turned out to watch. On the opening day the attendance was recorded at 300 and it was less than 5,000 over the course of the week. Eleven “name” players pulled out and there was a row between Nick Faldo, captain of GB&I, and Paul McGinley. It was Faldo’s fault. And it was messy.

In 2009, the stay-away frenzy carried on. Some had legitimate reason for not playing – Harrington and Donald were playing in the PGA Tour championship in America – but Garcia’s explanation was an insult. His management company said he had a prior commitment with his club manufacturer.

Vivendi used to sponsor the event but they don’t anymore and there doesn’t appear to be another company in a rush to take their place. Lawrie, and others, will make the point that a sponsor might materialise if only the McIlroys and Donalds and Garcias of Europe committed to it, but Lawrie appears to be whistling in the wind on that one. He can’t make them travel. He can’t force them to see it as a tournament to get excited about when everything about it tells them that it is not. They’ll revert to the default setting. “It’s my schedule. I need a rest sometime. Can’t play in them all.”

In an ideal world all of these guys would come together and celebrate the legend that was Seve every two years. But, hang on, isn’t that what the Ryder Cup has become? A Seve appreciation society. A time to remember the great man and give thanks for all he did for European golf. The Ryder Cup is passion and drama and unpredictability played out on a world stage. It is the greatest show in golf. A thrill-fest. In a word, Seve.

The Ryder Cup is the rightful monument to Ballesteros. It doesn’t need a poor imitation, even if the imitation is one that Seve created himself. There comes a time when you have to stop flogging a dead horse and let it be.

Gleneagles next year is the best place to celebrate Seve all over again.

 

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