When Jack Nicklaus proposed in 1977 that the Ryder Cup squad of Great Britain and Ireland also include continental Europe to make the matches more competitive, he probably had no idea he was inviting in the most intimidating and charismatic opponent Team USA had ever faced: Seve Ballesteros. On eight teams from 1979–1995, the dashing Spaniard racked up 22½ points in 37 matches, half of those in partnership with countryman José María Olazábal—the most successful team in Ryder Cup history.
But perhaps more important than his point total was the competitive spirit he brought to Team Europe. No player inspired his teammates like Seve did, whether with his play—many called his 3-wood from a fairway bunker to halve a singles match with Fuzzy Zoeller in 1983 the greatest shot they’d ever seen—or his words. After Europe’s one-point loss that year, Ballesteros gave a stirring locker-room speech that swept away any dejection: “This is not a defeat,” he said with customary brio. “This is a win!”
Two years later, Ballesteros and teammates won the Cup in front of 40,000 crazed fans at The Belfry and have dominated the competition pretty much ever since. And who can forget his pivotal role in the 1991 “War by the Shore” at Kiawah, where he took gamesmanship to a whole new level with Paul Azinger and went undefeated.
Yet the pinnacle of Seve’s Ryder Cup career came in 1997 when he captained a winning European team in his home country, the first matches held on the continent. After the daughter of the King of Spain presented him the trophy, Ballesteros, who died of brain cancer in 2011, said, “This is my best win ever. I have won five majors, six Order of Merits, many great tournaments around the world, but I have felt nothing like this.”
His passion for the event still fuels Team Europe to this day.