The 28th of September, exactly twenty years ago to this day, was a huge milestone in the history of The Ryder Cup, the European Tour and Real Club Valderrama.
It was the day Seve Ballesteros and his European team completed to a 14½ - 13½ victory over the USA, in the inspirational captain’s home country, where golf’s greatest team event was staged in Continental Europe for the first time.
That week, the southern Spanish venue hit the headlines worldwide by hosting one of world’s largest sporting events. In just under a month’s time, the course will return to the spotlight for the Andalucia Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation.
Garcia will be joined at the prestigious Spanish venue by, among many others, compatriot and World Number Five Jon Rahm as well as two-time Major winner and one of the nation’s greatest golfing legends, José María Olazábal, from October 19-22. For Olazábal, the 37th Ryder Cup was certainly a very special one.
“I have many great memories of that week at Valderrama,” said the 23-time European Tour winner, who captained Europe to a famous victory in The 2012 Ryder Cup. “To begin with, the beautiful inauguration ceremony, and then the downpour that fell in the early hours of Friday. According to local statistics it hadn’t rained that week for more than forty years, but that deluge made up for those and for the next forty!
“It was a very special Ryder Cup for me. After sharing so many with Seve as partners, having him as Captain was a very different feel. Seve was on top of every detail, he expected as much from us as he expected from himself. This made some players a bit uncomfortable, but I believe he did very well. We were close friends and we got on wonderfully.
“He had analysed every aspect of our opponents’ game and he prepared the course so we all had the same opportunities. With the help of Miguel, his right hand man, he got the pairings completely right. He brought to the team the passion he put in everything he did – he was a great Captain.
“I clearly remember my Saturday morning four-ball with Ignacio Garrido. The key moment was on 17 when we were really struggling against Phil Mickelson and Tom Lehman. Nacho’s second was bunkered past the green while Phil had hit a superb shot to six feet. Nacho’s bunker shot was amazing; the best bunker specialist couldn’t have done it in a hundred tries. He made his putt and Phil missed, so we halved that hole and eventually halved the match. It was an incredible moment.
“I got emotional at the final press conference when they asked me how I felt not having made it to the ’95 Ryder Cup; I recalled the tough times between ’95 and the first part of ’97 and I broke down; I was unable to talk for a while. To be there again on the winning team representing Europe, representing Spain, with Seve as Captain, meant the world to me.”
Olazábal has played several events on the European Tour and Senior Tour this season. The winner of 35 international titles – including two green jackets in 1994 and 1999 – seven-times Ryder Cup player and member of the Hall of Fame since 2009 will tee it up at the Andalucía Valderrama Masters, although he admits not being at his best. “I am struggling to hit fairways, so I expect to visit all the cork trees again”, he said.
“My best result was third at the 1989 Volvo Masters, won by Ronan Rafferty. Without being long, Valderrama is one of the most demanding courses in the world; technical and narrow with small greens. You must keep perfectly focused from the first tee shot to the last putt. I know of no other course that doesn’t allow for a moment of relaxation in 18 holes. It’s a great golf course and always in top condition.”