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The Sound of Silence

Europe channel spirit of Seve to quell US crowd

Posted Oct 02, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece


Back at The Belfry in 1993, when a rampant US team were demolishing Europe in Ryder Cup singles combat, skipper Tom Watson urged a colleague to "listen to the silence.  Isn't it beautiful?"   Delighted European observers could have echoed those words at Medinah on Sunday afternoon, while being surrounded by 45,000 of the most famously raucous fans in American sport.  

Not even Simon and Garfunkel could have imagined such a welcome sound of silence.  Which seemed richly ironic in view of American predictions about just how loud the Chicago galleries would be. As it happened, if actually forced to exercise their lungs, there would have been precious little for them to cheer about for long periods of an extraordinary finale to the 39th Ryder Cup, other than American pars and bogeys.

It was all down to the most extraordinary performance I have seen at this level.  And Europe did it the Seve way, with lots of passion and truly amazing self-belief.  This has been the tried and tested foundation of European Ryder Cup success since the time skipper Tony Jacklin became convinced his players could actually beat the Americans, after a narrow defeat at Palm Beach Gardens in 1983.  

I can imagine the current generation becoming heartily sick of hearing about the great Seve Ballesteros.  Surely no individual player could be so influential, they might argue. But he was.  He surely was.  Seve was so passionate about wanting to beat Americans that he was prepared to drain himself emotionally to achieve that objective.  As Christy O’Connor Jnr told me in the wake of the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 1989: “He eyeballed me, grabbed my shoulders and said: ‘Christy, you are a great player.’  And when I smiled at him in disbelief, he grabbed my shoulders again and, not disguising his irritation, repeated: ‘I tell you you’re a great player.  Now go out and play like one.’  My reaction was that if Seve thought I was a great player, there must be some truth in it.  And I set about trying to prove him right.”

As the one-time sorcerer’s apprentice who lost a dear friend in the great man’s passing last year, Jose Maria Olazabal was just the person to pass on the Ballesteros message to his troops last Saturday night.  That was when they set about coming to terms with an ostensibly insurmountable, 6-10 deficit going into Sunday’s singles.  And when the great deed was done in the most sensational manner imaginable, each player talked about Ollie’s influence.  How he had shed tears of emotion while cajoling them into a titanic, final effort.  And how the belief grew within them that it just might be possible.  Like Ballesteros had done with O’Connor and numerous other European players who happened to cross his path in Ryder Cup situations over the years.

And isn’t it amazing what self-belief can achieve?  Looking at Lee Westwood’s struggle with the blade in pairs combat on the opening two days, it was hard to imagine him facing anything other than defeat in the singles, especially against such an accomplished putter as Matt Kuchar.  Yet through great strength of mind, Westwood willed his putting touch to return.  And the extent to which it did, could be gauged from a 3 and 2 success at number 10 in the order, when every point was becoming priceless to the European cause.

Martin Kaymer also regained the self-belief to rekindle the competitive steel which had won him the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits two years ago.  Indeed by the time he had reached the final hole against Steve Stricker, who is renowned as one of the finest short-game exponents in American golf, you sensed the German would know what to do when faced with a five-footer for victory.  Straight it went into the final cup, so bringing the teams level at 14-14.  

And the Seve spirit carried right through to another relative newcomer, Francesco Molinari, in the final match.  Against all the odds in a head-to-head with none other than Tiger Woods, the Italian found the courage not only to take the match to the final green, but to exert sufficient pressure on the erstwhile “Great One”, as to win the hole and secure the half-point which gave Europe overall victory.

One European, of course, had no need to embrace the Ballesteros message, for the simple reason that he has lived it in every Ryder Cup moment since his splendid debut at Valhalla in 2008.  As he strode Medinah like a colossus, Ian Poulter was the personification of the ironic Spaniard, especially in a remarkable fourball victory on Saturday evening, when he finished with five successive birdies. Then came his crucial victory on Sunday over reigning US Open champion, Webb Simpson.

All of which was accompanied, naturally, by some serious European cheering.  Which had a special beauty all of its own.

- Dermot Gilleece

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