Seve to inspire Europe's 'every step' at Ryder Cup

By Mark Lamport-Stokes, Reuters

Posted at Sep 26 2012 12:45 PM | Updated as of Sep 26 2012 08:45 PM

MEDINAH, Illinois - The Ryder Cup passion of Seve Ballesteros will be with Europe "every step of the way" during this week's competition at Medinah Country Club where the Spaniard's image has been put on each player's golf bag.

Ballesteros, who died last year at the age of 54 after a long battle with brain cancer, was one of Europe's most inspirational figures in the biennial team competition where he compiled an impressive 20-12-5 record as a player.

"This was one way that Seve could be with us every step of the way," European captain Jose Maria Olazabal, a long-time friend of Ballesteros, said after the European golf bags were displayed for the official team photographs on Tuesday.

"This is the first match since he sadly passed away and a fitting tribute to a true champion and a great friend.

"Seve was an important part of the Ryder Cup because of the way he played and conducted himself from his opening match in 1979. This is the first time since then that he has not been present in anyway because in 2010 he was able to talk to everyone via the telephone."

The silhouetted image of Ballesteros on the European bags depicts his iconic reaction after winning his second British Open title at St. Andrews in 1984, his right arm punching the air in delight.

"That image of Seve's salute following his win ... is often referred to as 'El Momento'," said fellow Spaniard Olazabal. "He described the holing of his winning putt on the 18th green as 'the happiest moment of my whole sporting life.'

"His image will certainly ensure he is alongside us throughout the week."

Revived Europe's fortunes

Along with Briton Tony Jacklin, Ballesteros was chiefly responsible for reviving Europe's fortunes in the Ryder Cup in the early 1980s and he went on to captain Europe to victory at Valderrama in Spain in 1997.

Britain's Justin Rose, who was comforted by Ballesteros after the young Englishman had missed 21 consecutive cuts on the European Tour to start his professional career, was delighted to have the Spaniard's image on his golf bag.

"Had Seve been around, I'm sure he would have been a big part of this team this week," Rose told reporters before setting off for a practice round at Medinah. "It's great that he is still a big part of this team."

Rose, who made his Ryder Cup debut at Valhalla four years ago but failed to qualify for the 2010 European team at Celtic Manor, has fond memories of Ballesteros.

"When I was struggling on Tour when I first turned pro, he was one of the few guys to put his arm around me in a sense, just to give me some words of encouragement," said Rose.

"I remember my first Masters, he just said, 'Well done', because my first Masters was a breakthrough for me," added the Englishman who tied for 39th on his debut at Augusta National in 2003.

Rose also owed Ballesteros a debt of gratitude on the way to his maiden victory on the U.S. PGA Tour at the 2010 Memorial tournament where he drew on memories of the Spaniard's inspirational short game.

"A couple times during that win, I had some tough short game shots, and Seve sprang to mind," Rose recalled.

"I was sort of trying to picture how Seve would have tried to play the shot. He was definitely with me that week." (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; editing by Frank Pingue)