TJ Auclair: Europeans inspired by late Ballesteros

Jose Maria Olazabal said he learned from Seve Ballesteros never to give up in the Ryder Cup.

Auclair: Europeans inspired by late Ballesteros

Seve Ballesteros' memory was everywhere this week, thanks to his great friend Jose Maria Olazabal. After their victory, the Europeans agreed to a man that Seve’s spirit helped them succeed.

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer

MEDINAH, Ill. – Make no bones about it – this historic Ryder Cup victory by the Europeans was for the late Seve Ballesteros.

"We wanted to do it for Seve," said Luke Donald. "We wanted to show our grit. We've been known not to be that great in singles, and we showed that we can win. It's going down in history. We talk about Brookline in '99, losing that one. We wanted to come back and show that we could win from behind, too. I think those last two matches yesterday afternoon were such a key moment in winning the Ryder Cup. It gave us the boost we needed. We were able to get off to a fast start today, and we did it."

Ballesteros, the five-time major champion from Spain who put the Ryder Cup on the map in Europe, passed away on May 7, 2011, succumbing to a long battle with cancer at the all-too-young age of 54.

Ballesteros was a European Ryder Cup legend. He was European Ryder Cup Captain Jose Maria Olazabal’s idol and the duo made up the nearly unbeatable Ryder Cup duo known as the “Spanish Armada.”

With Olazabal as captain here at Medinah, we knew there would be an emphasis on ensuring the spirit of Ballesteros would be ever-present throughout the week.

Olazabal made reference to Ballesteros at the Opening Ceremonies. The entire European team had a silhouette of Seve stitched into their golf bags this week. On Sunday, the Europeans wore Seve’s favorite colors – a white cotton polo shirt with navy blue pants and navy blue sweaters. The left sleeves of the shirts and sweaters even had a silhouette of Seve stitched into them.

Throughout his illustrious career, Ballesteros was known as a magician. He’d get himself into situations on the golf course where he looked sure to be doomed, only to produce miracle after miracle. 

With Seve heavy on all their minds, the Europeans did the unthinkable at Medinah on Sunday – they channeled their inner Seve to produce a miracle come-from-behind victory over the United States to win the 39th Ryder Cup, 14 ½- 13 ½.

Just like the Americans at Brookline in 1999, Europe entered Sunday’s singles trailing 10-6. And, just like the Americans at Brookline in 1999, the Europeans overcame the tremendous deficit in mind-blowing fashion that will be talked about for as long as the Ryder Cup is played.

This, however, had to be more impressive than Brookline. This was a road game for the Europeans. They weren’t in the friendly confines.

It was remarkable. It was resilient. It epitomized all that was Seve Ballesteros. 

On the eve of Sunday’s singles, Olazabal was asked if he had a good feeling about this – a reference to Ben Crenshaw’s famous, “I’ve got a good feeling about this,” line at Brookline.

Olazabal offered a playful chuckle. 

“I believe, yeah, that it's not over,” he said. “That's what I learned from Seve, and that's what I'm going to try to pass to the players. It's not over until it's over. There are 12 matches to be played tomorrow. Of course we have a tough task ahead, but it's not over; as simple as that.”

At the time Olazabal made that statement, it sure didn’t seem so simple.

Putting into place the same plan the United States used in 1999, Olazabal frontloaded his Sunday line-up sending out all his studs first. They delivered in a big way, winning each of the first four matches.  

Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose all came through.

Throughout the day, the magnitude of what was unfolding seemed almost too much for Olazabal to take. He was often caught on camera either looking up, or looking down, hardly able to watch what was going on in front of him. 

Olazabal was on the European team that lost at Brookline. In fact, he faced Justin Leonard in the match that ultimately clinched the Ryder Cup for the Americans. It was something Olazabal remembers like it was yesterday.

“There is three moments that I remember very vividly,” he said. “The start that the U.S. team had, having reds straight away winning the first few matches; 17 green with Justin [Leonard]; and all the players after the matches were over in the locker room and seeing I would say more than half of the players crying all together there, me included.”

Thirteen years later, Olazabal found himself crying at the conclusion of another Ryder Cup. But, this time, it was because he and his team returned the favor. 

Any guess who was the first person on Olazabal’s mind?

“Seve will always be present,” Olazabal said. “Seve will always be present with this team. He was a big factor for this event, for the European side, and last night when we were having that meeting, I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing, and I think they did.”

For Sergio Garcia, a 1-up winner in his match over Jim Furyk on Sunday, there was no question Seve’s spirit was with the Europeans.

“I have no doubt in my mind that he was with me today all day, because there's no chance I would have won my match if he wasn't there,” Garcia said. “You know, it was amazing, and it feels so good to be able to win it for him and for our captain, José, it's been amazing. He's an amazing guy, just unbelievable. I’m very happy.”  

Unbelievable indeed.