The first thing to know about the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama is that it was never originally intended to be played in 1997, nor at Valderrama.
In the late eighties, rumours of the match being staged somewhere on Continental Europe began to intensify, with Spain heavily fancied to get the nod. No surprise there. It had, after all, provided more golfers to the European team than any other country on the continent since the team was expanded beyond the borders of Great Britain & Ireland in 1979.
In May 1990, a first bid was put before the European Ryder Cup committee – comprising three representatives from the European Tour, three from the PGA and PGA president Lord Derby – for Club de Campo, on the outskirts of Madrid, to stage the 1993 match. The Belfry, in England, host to the previous three European editions of the match, provided a second option.
The three members of the European Tour voted in favour of the Spanish bid. The three members of the PGA, headquartered at The Belfry, voted for the English course. That left Lord Derby with the decisive vote. To nobody’s surprise but to much chagrin, he, too, voted for The Belfry.
Many of the tour's continental members took the decision personally, not least Seve Ballesteros. He argued, not unreasonably, that his involvement in the match had played a huge part in increasing the visibility, prestige and competitiveness of what had hitherto become a one-sided contest.
In May 1994, when it came time to choose the 1997 host venue, Seve and Co. were determined not to be left disappointed and embittered once again. They lobbied hard, Seve himself making several trips to London to meet with the European Tour's chief executive Ken Schofield and other influential figures.
Seve’s preference was the for the event to be played at a new course he was designing near Madrid called Galapagar. When that project was derailed by red tape and bureaucracy, he pitched another of his courses: Novo Sancti Petri, near Cadiz, on the Atlantic coast of southern Spain.
It was reported to be one of five destinations under consideration alongside La Manga, La Moraleja, El Saler and Valderrama.
Seve was adamant that Novo Sancti Petri was the best choice. As well as an exceptional course – which, importantly to Seve, was open to the public – it also had two good hotels nearby, with several others under construction. The uber-private Valderrama, by comparison, had none. What it did have, was an influential owner, a man named Jaime Ortiz Patiño. Since 1988, he had staged the European Tour’s lucrative Volvo Masters.
The opportunity to stage one of golf’s biggest tournaments, not to mention one of the world’s most exciting sporting spectacles, was seen by many a just reward for Patiño’s loyal, long-standing and significant support of the tour.
On May 26, 1994, a decision on the host venue for the 1997 Ryder Cup was announced.
It was going to Spain.
It was going to Valderrama. “Inevitably,” Seve wryly remarked some time later.
With that decision made, most assumed that Ballesteros would be the European captain. Who better to lead a European team in Spain than the most successful Spanish - and most influential European - golfer of all time?
There was just one person wasn’t particularly keen on the idea: Seve himself. In 1995, whilst travelling to the Far East, Schofield asked the Spaniard if he would assume the responsibility. Seve declined to answer. Instead, he wanted to wait until he returned home to Spain, where he’d have the opportunity to discuss the offer with his brothers.
Writing in his autobiography some years later, Seve said: “I told them, ‘I don’t think I want to be captain. It’s not a good idea. I’d rather do all I can to play.’”
His brothers convinced him otherwise and, eventually, Seve relented. He contacted Schofield and accepted the captaincy on one condition: that the option of being a playing captain remained on the table.
Although Schofield agreed, it wasn’t long before Seve realised that would be nigh-on impossible.
“A Ryder Cup captain has lots of duties and they take up all of his time,” he said. “As this was to be the first Ryder Cup played outside Great Britain, I would have more work to do than any previous captain.”
It’s no exaggeration to say Seve resented that side of the job. He even told tour officials that he thought the amount of ‘extracurricular’ work that was required was ‘excessive’. To their credit, they agreed. The social events were reduced to a minimum and the ‘victory dinner’, which had become a staple of matches, was scrapped.
However, there was one particular (and particularly contentious) matter where the tour refused to let Seve have his way: the number of picks at his disposal.
In his final outing as captain in 1995, European skipper Bernard Gallacher saw the three picks he'd enjoyed the luxury of in both 1991 and 1993 trimmed to two. Mindful of the growing attraction of the PGA Tour, the high hiedyins of the European Tour wanted the overwhelming majority of places on the team to go to players who supported their circuit.
Seve argued a case for more but it fell on deaf ears. He’d get two picks and like it.
As his team started to take shape and with qualifying close to over, he told Nick Faldo and Jose Maria Olazabal in the strictest confidence that they’d be his picks. Both were struggling to qualify and Seve wanted them to know how much he needed them.
After months and years of wrangling, fighting, arguing and drama, things appeared to be starting to calm. Seve Ballesteros’ side to take on Tom Kite’s Americans at Valderrama was almost settled.
Then Miguel Angel Martin wrote a letter.