Ryder Cup: Spirit of Seve Ballesteros looms large

Thomas Bjorn is oozing with excitement after 12-year gap. Picture: SNSThomas Bjorn is oozing with excitement after 12-year gap. Picture: SNS
Thomas Bjorn is oozing with excitement after 12-year gap. Picture: SNS
HIS iconic logo was emblazoned on clothing and golf bags at Medinah, where skywriting on the final day also encouraged the European players to “Do it for Seve”.

Here, the spirit of Seve Ballesteros is equally unmissable with his message plastered on the back of a stand that is clearly visible from the first tee.

“As a player and captain, these are unforgettable moments where you are competing for your team-mates, your country and the people of your continent,” it reads.

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It would be easy, one supposes, for the Americans to accuse their opponents of overplaying the Seve card. This, though, is Europe’s first home match since the great man lost his battle with cancer in May 2011.

Thomas Bjorn is oozing with excitement after 12-year gap. Picture: SNSThomas Bjorn is oozing with excitement after 12-year gap. Picture: SNS
Thomas Bjorn is oozing with excitement after 12-year gap. Picture: SNS

You only had to listen to Thomas Bjorn talking in the Media Centre at Gleneagles yesterday to relate to why the Spaniard’s shadow is looming over this event and will do so at many more of these matches. “Seve lives with us,” said the Dane. “He lives with the Ryder Cup more than anything, but he lives with us as a team. He’s a huge inspiration to the team and he always will be.

“For us as a Tour and as players, he is the most inspirational guy there’s ever been and I was lucky to be around him when he played. You couldn’t have a man that stood for more of what European golf is all about. He will live with us forever.

“There are quotes, there are pictures of him around and that’s because he deserves to be the person that inspires this team and inspires every golfer around the world.

“When you start going around the course and see pictures of him and quotes from him, you know it’s not only about the 24 guys playing golf this week. It’s about the game of golf as well and what he meant to this game.

“Seve is everything to European golf and we will always remember that. He was a great man and I was fortunate to have him as a captain [at Valderrama in 1997]. Getting close to a man that was great for this game is still something I look back on as some of the best days of my life.”

In a different way, Bjorn has been a great man for European golf himself in the past few years. As tournament committee chairman for the Tour, he has played a key part in helping the circuit through some troubled times.

His own golf seemed to take a back seat for a spell, but now he is roaring back. At 43, he is bridging a 12-year gap to play in a third Ryder Cup and is oozing with the same excitement as Stephen Gallacher or the two other rookies in the home ranks.

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“I can’t really think of anything better than this,” admitted Bjorn, who won the 2011 Johnnie Walker Championship over the same course, which is staging Scotland’s first Ryder Cup in more than 40 years. “It’s been a while and it was nice to walk into that locker room and actually see a golf bag with your name on it. From all the way down in the heart, it feels good to be back.”

Not that he has been away in the wider context of the event. In three transatlantic tussles since his last playing appearance, Bjorn was a vice-captain to Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal. He is here, though, as a player. Nothing else. Paul McGinley, the European captain, has made that perfectly clear to him.

“I’m very well aware of what my role is this week and it’s on the golf course,” he admitted. “My role is concentrating on being me, playing the golf that I can play and not worry about anything else. To be honest, I felt that was going to be the hardest task for me coming in here, but so far so good.”

When wearing his tournament committee chairman’s hat, it was Bjorn who made the announcement in Abu Dhabi 20 months ago that McGinley had been appointed as European captain – the first Irishman to hold the post. It is a decision he feels comfortable about, even though McGinley is up against a legend in Tom Watson this week.

“Paul deserved to be captain – the players wanted him to be captain,” declared Bjorn. “For us, it was important to have a captain that knew what the Tour was about. There’s a lot of things that ride on the Ryder Cup, not just the week itself but what the Tour is all about. He has been a great choice, we believe in him.”

As either a player or vice-captain, Bjorn has served under some of the greats of European golf. In terms of a playing record, McGinley may not be on the same level as most of them. As a captain, though, Bjorn said he is up there with the best.

“Paul is different in the way that he is so factual and that he’s so much into stats,” said Bjorn. “He doesn’t get over-emotional. Where other captains may have been focusing on the individual, Paul very much focuses on the team and what every person can deliver to a team.

“They will go into this feeling comfortable with what they have to do.”