Ryder Cup 1997: We relive the drama of Valderrama
In 1997 the Ryder Cup had a distinctly-Spanish flavour as Seve Ballesteros captained the team in his home country.
This also made the 32nd Ryder Cup the first to be held in Continental Europe.
Spain had been the obvious choice for the honour as the country had long supported the European Tour, once hosting 12 tournaments in a single year, as well as producing players of the calibre of Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.
Among the European team was Madrid’s Ignacio Garrido, who was following in the footsteps of his father, Antonio.
How determined were you to play in Spain’s Ryder Cup?
I think it’s in everyone’s mind within the European Tour to be part of the team, and even more so when it’s in your own country.
I was playing well and I thought: of course, why not. I was not afraid of playing and gave myself the chance to do it.
Your dad Antonio was one of the first Europeans to play a Ryder Cup in 1979. Did he help inspire you?
He helped me a lot but when he played was a long time before.
The Ryder Cup has changed a lot, so obviously they were different times, but his experience within the Ryder Cup and the whole game has helped me a lot.
Seve’s passion made him the obvious choice for captain. How much interaction did you have with him in the build-up?
With a few weeks to go it looked certain I was in, so he spoke a lot to me, trying to get me ready for it, to make sure I enjoyed it.
He made sure I knew what I was going to be part of and making sure I knew everyone in the team.
He did a good job of making me feel protected.
Valderrama’s small greens and narrow fairways suited the Europeans more than the big-hitting Americans, and Seve made sure the course was altered to exaggerate this, didn’t he?
Seve was great with strategy and he prepared everything so it would be better for us.
That started the era where everyone was thinking, what advantage can we have? He really set up the course thinking that the Americans were longer and we shouldn’t give them an advantage on any hole.
So he did a really good job and we won by a point, so maybe that made the whole difference.
The opening ceremony was certainly a first too, with flamenco dancers and the King of Spain in attendance. Was there a sense of the Ryder Cup becoming a sporting spectacular?
It has been building up through the years and become more of a show than other golf tournaments.
Over the years when Seve was the part of the team, I think how intense he was with everything really helped that evolution.
Heavy rain threatened to ruin the tournament. How did that affect you?
It’s obviously something we were not expecting.
It rains 10 days a year in that area and we got four of them. But the environment is so warm that the weather is the last thing you remember.
I was playing the Ryder Cup in front of my own people, it was a perfect scenario. I enjoyed every minute so it couldn’t be better.
Seve spent matches dashing around in his buggy, barking out orders – to the irritation of some senior players. How did you find him?
I would rather have someone involved in the team, going over the limit of trying to help, than someone who’s passive and letting players do their own thing.
It was a team event and team spirit has to be built.
Making everyone feel they are all together, working hard for the same game, is the biggest part of the role of the captain and Seve did it to perfection.
Obviously there are different characters and some people might feel a bit disturbed but you have to feel everything he did was to help, so you can never blame him.
Valderrama saw the debuts of Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, who would stamp their mark on the Ryder Cup over the next 20 years. Was there a sense of a changing of the guard?
Yes, but that’s life isn’t it.
Nobody is eternal and you know we are sportsmen and you get to a point when you can’t perform at the same level and there are a lot of people pushing you from behind.
This was also the first appearance of Tiger Woods. You played with him – what were your first impressions?
He has always looked to me like not only the best player, but a different player.
He did things we couldn’t do, and that’s hard to say. I have never seen someone like that.
The good thing is we were not afraid of him, we were looking forward to being paired with him.
His record was not very good as the weather really affected him – he couldn’t control his spin as much as he did later on.
I had the chance to play against him but he was something different – like nothing I have seen.
Is it true that you asked if you could go last in the singles?
No, it’s quite far from the truth.
When Seve got to the room and we had to pick, it was Nick Faldo who spoke first and said he would like to be near the back, but not last. Bernhard Langer said somewhere near the front but not first. Woosnam said first. Monty said just before Nick.
So everyone was talking and I was a rookie and I said I will play wherever you tell me.
Seve asked who is going to go last and Jesper said, “I think Ignacio can handle it well. He would be good to go last”.
The truth is I didn’t do a very good job, but it’s also true that Tom Lehman played very well.
As it happens your loss didn’t matter when Monty secured the crucial half point. What were the celebrations like?
It was great, but I have to say we had a lovely spirit throughout the whole week.
Obviously we were satisfied to have won but I don’t remember the celebrations as the best part for the team, but every other time. You realise a human side of people that you don’t have chance to see when you are competing against each other.