If there is one Spanish name synonymous with the Ryder Cup’s re-birth in the 1980s, so another has become synonymous with the beginning of a new era in the competition – that of European domination.
Two years after winning three-and-a-half points out of four in Europe’s comprehensive victory on US soil, Sergio Garcia (pictured) led from the front once again as he more than any other European player helped his team to establish an insurmountable lead to take into the final day at the K Club.
It is true that Colin Montgomerie got a vital opening point for Europe in yesterday’s singles matches just after Garcia had lost to American wildcard Stewart Cink 4&3, but the mantle of European talisman had already been passed from the popular Scot to the exuberant Spaniard after Garcia’s sensational and inspirational form over the opening two days.
While Montgomerie was forced to play a bit-part role in the fourballs and foursomes, Garcia inspired two partners, Jose Maria Olazabal and Luke Donald, into helping him secure four points out of four. Olazabal and Donald are both senior to Garcia in terms of years, Olazabal considerably so, but there was no doubt in the minds of anybody watching as to who was the senior partner in both of these pairings.
For years Severiano Ballesteros was the driving force behind the European team’s efforts to win the Ryder Cup. His appearance on the scene in the late 1970s was spectacular, but the indifference that he was greeted with by the Americans after he won two Masters titles sparked a resentment to all things American that never left him. It became a personal quest for him to humble the Americans at every opportunity and their dismissiveness to his often wayward style of play spurred him on to lifting Europe from also rans into real contenders for the Ryder Cup.
If Ballesteros’ genius in the Ryder Cup stemmed from his dislike of the Americans and his brilliance as a matchplayer able to swiftly demoralise an opponent with astonishing recoveries, Garica’s is more straightforward. He possesses a charisma of similar effect to that of his countryman, but it is a charisma that is less intense and less hostile to the ‘old enemy’. While Ballesteros was a snarling and single-minded motivator who capitalised on European golf’s inferiority complex of the 1980s and early 1990s to lead his continent to the promised land, Garcia’s ability to catalyse his team-mates is much more transparent. His apparent ease in the company of the Americans and the fact that he calls America his home for most of the season makes him a direct beneficiary of Ballesteros’ role as a Conquistador of US golf during the early 1980s – and it also makes him a confident, comfortable and dangerous foe for the Americans at the Ryder Cup.
He is a smiling and jovial presence on the course, forever hugging his team-mates and patting them on the back. It is a product of his easy-going nature, his popularity in the USA (which Ballesteros never had, in spite of his greater success in Majors) and his extraordinary start to his Ryder Cup career. After the dust settled on events at the K Club, Garcia’s record in the event stood at 14 wins, 2 halves and just 3 losses. His spirit makes the creation of an atmosphere of ‘togetherness’ – so elusive to the self-absorbed Americans over the last couple of renewals – easy for any captain, as Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam will testify.
One man, another Spaniard, is certainly in a better position than most to compare the two Spanish icons of the modern Ryder Cup. At the K Club Olazabal was making his return to the Ryder Cup after a seven year absence, and his own Ryder Cup record stands up admirably to any comparison. His early years in the event were undertaken as Ballesteros’ protege and the two men forged one of the most unbeatable pairings in the event’s history. Paired with Garcia at the K Club for both fourball sessions, Olazabal boosted his record still further by winning both matches.
“He has a young spirit and is full of energy,” Olazabal said of his 26 year-old partner.
“He loves this event because of the atmosphere, the crowds and the team thing. Everyone on the team loves him and his enthusiasm is infectious. He is much younger than me but he didn’t need any help and on Friday in particular I hardly had to do anything.”
“He has been a revelation in the Ryder Cup so far and it was a pleasure to share some of it with him. He is young and he can win Majors like Seve – no doubt about it.”