x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dedicated followers of a Ryder Cup legend Seve Ballesteros

The late Spaniard is held in the highest esteem by players and fans of both the US and Europe, but tributes to his memory may be more a hindrance than help, says Will Batchelor.

Seve Ballesteros celebrates winning the British Open at St Andrews in 1984. Team Europe will honour the memory of the late Spaniard by displaying a silhouette of his iconic celebration in Scotland on the golf bag of each player during the Ryder Cup in Medinah, Illinois. AP Photo
Seve Ballesteros celebrates winning the British Open at St Andrews in 1984. Team Europe will honour the memory of the late Spaniard by displaying a silhouette of his iconic celebration in Scotland on the golf bag of each player during the Ryder Cup in Medinah, Illinois. AP Photo

From a fashion point of view alone, golf fans should feel a small sense of relief that Ian Poulter has not lived up to his early promise to become a true great of the game, like Seve Ballesteros.

Even in death, the Spaniard is such a talisman for Team Europe in the Ryder Cup that the players are reportedly planning to copy his trademark outfit of navy trousers, white shirt and navy sweater in the singles matches on Sunday.

If true, that will be a very special moment, this being the first Ryder Cup since the death of Ballesteros last year at the absurdly young age of 54 (for comparison purposes, Tom Watson nearly won the British Open at 60), so be sure to get your excuses ready. I'm planning to blame either the late onset of hay fever or that old classic, "I must have something in my eye".

Just imagine if Poulter ever secured such iconic status. I mean, he is a great character but you would not want to see 12 guys all sporting his look. That way migraines lie.

The navy sweaters are just part of the Ballesteros iconography that will run through this year's contest, which starts today at Medinah.

Other tributes include a silhouette image of Ballesteros - his fist-pumping celebration at winning the 1984 Open - on the European players' bags and the same image on a commemorative yardage book.

The latter is a gift, and a very classy one at that, from the US captain Davis Love III to the visiting players. The former was the brainchild of Jose Maria Olazabal, the European captain who enjoyed a close friendship with Ballesteros.

"We came up with the idea," he said.

"So that every time somebody goes to grab a club or something from the bag, they can see him."

Frankly, I worry that this well-intentioned gesture will be more of a hindrance than a help. Will they feel comfortable playing those dull, conservative, safety-first shots which can win matches when the ghost of Ballesteros is peering over their shoulder, whispering encouragement to try something a little more crowd-pleasing?

Perhaps Olazabal should have included a silhouette of a more conservative player - Jack Nicklaus going for a sensible layup - on the bags as well, just to balance things up. I am being flippant, of course. Match play golf rewards derring-do and, besides, the beauty of honouring Ballesteros in this way is that different European players can draw different strengths from his legend.

For Justin Rose, the 32-year-old Englishman, it will be the memory of how Ballesteros encouraged him to keep the faith when he was failing to live up to his early promise as a golfer.

For Olazabal, it will be how his fellow Spaniard calmed his nerves when they were paired at the younger man's first Ryder Cup in 1987 - or indeed his second, when he was so nervous at taking the opening shot, he could barely get the ball to stay on the tee.

For Nicolas Colsaerts, the 29-year-old Belgian rookie, it might be how Ballesteros acted as a lone standard-bearer for the sport in a country that knew or cared little for it.

Golf was nothing in Spain before Ballesteros, but has done rather well since.

If Colsaerts does manage to emulate the great man, perhaps in 20 years' time, the Belgians may become as fearsome at golf as they are at chocolate, comics and, latterly, football.

But even if the image does not affect the players' game one jot - and you might think that a professional golfer would be too focused to notice such fripperies as a picture on his bag - it has already set the perfect tone for golf's greatest tournament.

The respect shown by Team USA towards the memory of Ballesteros, who was also a great friend of American golf, has reminded us all that fierce rivalry and admiration are not mutually exclusive.

Who knows, perhaps the boisterous home crowd at Medinah might even spot the image of Ballesteros on those bags and decide, what the hell, let's not bother cheering those missed putts this year or trying to spook and taunt the visitors. Ballesteros was a visitor once, after all, and we loved him.

Possible? Yes. Likely? Well, there will always be a few idiots who are louder and more obnoxious than a pair of Poulter's trousers.

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