It has always been confirmed beyond doubt in the world of golf that Severiano Ballesteros was the man who saved the Ryder Cup. In a competition in which one of the two teams in contention (Europe) lost every two years, sentiment was nil until the figure of the ‘genius of Pedrena’ emerged to pull the car from the Old Continent. Of course, there was also an occasion when the Spaniard needed a good dose of help from his team in his major tournament. It happened in the 1995 Ryder Cup, played at Oak Hill, the course where the PGA Championship is being held this week, featuring Jon Rahm, Pablo Larrazabal, Adrian Otegui and Adri Arnaus.
In 1995, Seve was experiencing physical problems and his swing had deteriorated. The Spaniard still won the Spanish Open that year, but he could no longer compete with the same ease as before and this was seen during Ryder’s run. Ballesteros won in his appearance on Friday in four balls with David Gilford as partner, but also lost on Saturday with England as partner. Captain Bernard Gallacher was clear it would be too risky for Seve to line up in the foursome, but on Sunday, where he dropped to 7-9 for the United States, the slogan was that the Spaniard would be in the first game.
This way, if Sev did well, it would boost the entire team, but if they lost, the European team would still have room to come back. Ballesteros fell 4 and 3 with Tom Lehmann, the favorite at the time, but the American highlighted after the fact that the Spaniard bogeyed him during the first hole. The reason was that the Spaniard made a horrendous start that gave Lehmann a clear advantage, but was followed by extraordinary recoveries that saw him match the result of the American hole after hole. Lehman eventually prevailed.
The story goes that Montgomery defeated Crenshaw, and a crucial battle was being fought between Nick Faldo and Curtis Strange in the eighth game. Strange was 1 on 16 and Britain attacked on 17 to equalise. Sir Nick Faldo put himself in a winning position on the 18th when a less-than-perfect chip from his opponent left him with an awkward putt. The pressure was immense for both and the American was unable to hole out. Faldo put it in from one and a half metres.
So Seve, who knew that all of his team’s hopes lay in that comeback, went straight to his many-times rival and embraced him through tears. “You are a great champion,” Ballesteros told him. “That was the biggest moment of my career,” Faldo recalled. “It was an ecstatic moment, everyone going crazy, Seve (Ballesteros) crying and hugging me. It was an incredible sight,” the Englishman explained years later.