NEWPORT, Wales – Looking for some extra passion, the European Ryder Cup team made a phone call to Seve Ballesteros, the cancer-stricken former captain who took the event to new heights as a player.
This year’s captain, Colin Montgomerie, said the entire team was able to speak with Ballesteros on Tuesday night. The 53-year-old Spaniard is battling brain cancer and wasn’t strong enough to travel to Celtic Manor.
“That was very motivational, very passionate, and also very sad to hear him, to hear the way he is,” Montgomerie said. “But still, the passion is very, very strong within Seve for us as a team, and he just wishes that he could be here.”
Ballesteros was diagnosed with a brain tumor nearly two years ago. He had hoped to be at St. Andrews in July for the British Open, but his doctors advised him against making the trip.
The Ryder Cup was ruled out as well, but Ballesteros did manage to spend about 10 minutes with the Europeans via a speakerphone set up in the team room.
“That was a real inspiration, especially for the rookies in the team, to speak to Seve, and Seve speak to them,” said Montgomerie, who played in three Ryder Cups with Ballesteros and also on the 1997 team in which he served as captain. “I’ve never had anyone as passionate about sport and golf as him.”
Both teams are going for any edge they can get before the start of play Friday.
U.S. captain Corey Pavin brought in Maj. Dan Rooney, a decorated F-16 fighter pilot and a PGA of America golf professional, to speak with the American team on Tuesday.
“It wasn’t so much a motivational speech,” Pavin said, “but maybe a little more awareness of what’s happening around the world and what’s going on and how, in a military sense, how team unit and accountability to each other is very important.”
As a Ryder Cup player in 1991, Pavin wore a camouflage hat at Kiawah to show support for American troops in the first Gulf War, a choice of attire that sparked some debate at an event dubbed the “War by the Shore.” Even so, he wouldn’t second-guess linking the military to a golf match at a time when the U.S. just ended combat operations in Iraq and remains mired in a tough conflict in Afghanistan.
“I think the military awareness in the United States is probably at an all-time high,” Pavin said. “I think people, certainly in the States and over here, appreciate the military and what they do for our freedoms.”
He also said it was important to have Rooney “stress some points that I’ve been stressing, and just to relate it in a different manner.”
Montgomerie allowed Gareth Edwards, a former rugby union player and perhaps Wales’ most famous athlete, to speak to the European team in person – not so much for motivation, but to pass along some of the same passion that Ballesteros showed on the golf course.
The Spaniard is credited with propelling the Ryder Cup into the modern era after it was opened to players from continental Europe as well as Britain in 1979. An eight-time member of the team, Ballesteros spearheaded Europe’s rise in the event, which had become nearly irrelevant because of American dominance.
In 1997, he took over as captain and guided the Europeans to a rousing upset of the Americans at the first Ryder Cup held in Spain.
“I think it was only right to get Seve on the phone,” Montgomerie said. “Seve is our Ryder Cup and always will be. It’s always nice to not ever feel that Seve is forgotten by us or by European golf in any way, shape or form.”
Pavin said he feels the same way about America’s soldiers.
“What the military does is amazing, to put your life on the line for what you believe and for the freedoms of other people,” he said. “Obviously, it’s the ultimate sacrifice to do that. And I think it’s very worthwhile to recognize that.”
The players were clearly moved by Rooney’s talk.
“I just hate to hear of anybody who ever has to go to war,” Jeff Overton said. “It’s just an awful thing.”