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 ROBERT GREEN
 Another Thing

Ballesteros in the frame for honours
With his playing days now well behind him, and his health likely to be permanently delicate, Seve Ballesteros finds the European Tour in embracing mood

May is shaping up to be a big month for the European Tour at Wentworth. On Tuesday May 17, it will announce which one of five candidate countries – France, Germany, Holland, Portugal and Spain – will host the 2018 Ryder Cup. On Monday May 23, to mark the week of the BMW PGA Championship, the Tour will stage an exclusive tournament, with a field of only 18 players. This will be the Seve Ballesteros Invitational Pro-Am, in honour of the man who did more than any other individual to make the Ryder Cup the phenomenon it is today.

The event came about at the request of the tour’s membership, which wanted a pro-am played over the famous West Course to celebrate both the 40th anniversary of the creation of the European Tour and the 20th anniversary of Seve’s last victories in the PGA Championship (achieved after a playoff with Colin Montgomerie) and the World Matchplay Championship (Nick Price was vanquished by 3&2 in the final). Proceeds from the pro-am will benefit the work done by the Seve Ballesteros Foundation on behalf of Cancer Research UK.

In happier and healthier days for him, Seve was our guest of honour at the launch party of Golf International in spring 1997 - an event held near Wentworth!

All this is hugely laudable and as it should be. Somehow, though, one wonders what Seve makes of it all as he sits at home in Spain, continuing – as he likely will be forever – to recuperate from the effects of the brain tumour he suffered and the consequences of the surgery undertaken to remove it. Throughout his career, he was regularly at loggerheads with the Tour – for example, regarding the payment of appearance fees, an issue over which he felt the Tour specifically moved to discriminate against him; regarding his omission from the Ryder Cup in 1981; regarding, as part of the socalled Gang of Four, his questioning of the business practices of the Tour; and then, latterly and with hindsight ironically, over his disqualification at the 2003 Italian Open. Now he’s out of the game, he can’t be praised enough.

Talking about the May 23 proam at a lunch in London, the Tour’s chief executive, George O’Grady, made a point of emphasising the influence Seve still has, mentioning in particular Italy’s Matteo Manassero, whose triumph in the Castello Masters last October meant he assumed Seve’s mantle of being the youngest-ever full member of the European Tour. Seve is Manassero’s hero and the latter’s first recollection of meeting him was at that Italian Open in 2003, which was held at his home golf club, Gardagolf.

Seve’s main memory of the week was that the fractious dispute after his disqualification for refusing to accept a one-shot penalty for slow play led to him accusing the Tour of being “nearly like a Mafia”, for which he was subsequently fined £5,000 and formally reprimanded. Those penalties were imposed after a committee meeting held – would you credit it? – at Wentworth during the week of the PGA Championship. Seve was so upset that he withdrew from the tournament.

Given recent precedent, such as his decision to forego the opportunity to play in the past Open Champions’ Challenge at St Andrews last summer, or to travel to London to be honoured at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards in 2009, it is perhaps unlikely that he will make the trip back to Wentworth this May. Close friends say he would be afraid of finding the emotion of the occasion too much to endure.

Of course, Seve was no angel in any of the disputes; no one could reasonably say that he was always right and the Tour was always wrong. It is probably also fair to say that Seve’s relationship with O’Grady has generally been an easier one that it was with his predecessor, Ken Schofield, so I’m making no suggestions of hypocrisy in that regard. But I am glad he’s getting his due from golf’s authorities now. Although he was never the most easy-going guy on earth, it would just be nicer if it had happened more frequently when he was around to enjoy it.

AS FOR THE FUTURE, WHERE TO NEXT FOR THE EUROPEAN TOUR?

The addition of Bahrain to the schedule for the Volvo Golf Champions tournament in January created a four-week stretch in the Middle East. What might be the next stop to be added, completing a nap hand? Don’t discount Saudi Arabia.

March 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 






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