By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
MEDINAH, Ill. -- The game of golf lost one of its larger-than-life characters last year when Seve Ballesteros died after battling brain cancer. But European Ryder Cup Captain Jose Maria Olazabal felt the loss of his mentor and abiding friend more than most.
Olazabal vividly remembers playing with Ballesteros in his first Ryder Cup at Muirfield Village. The two won three of their four matches in Europe's historic victory, its first ever on U.S. soil.
"I was shaking like a leaf," Olazabal said of the walk to the first tee on Thursday. "It was huge crowds, very loud, similar to what we are going to see here this week. So I kept my head down, and he approached me as we were walking on to the first tee. He looked at me, and said, 'José Maria, you play your game, I'll take care of the rest.' And he did.
"He was a great figure. I think not just for myself, but for the whole European squad, not just that year, but every year that he played in that team. We are going to miss him a lot."
Olazabal made sure the European Team doesn't forget Ballesteros at Medinah. Each player's golf bag will feature the iconic silhouette depicting Ballesteros’ celebration after holing the winning putt at the British Open in 1984 -- a moment the Spaniard once called "the happiest moment of my whole sporting life.”
Ballesteros, who later used the image as his business logo, had the silhouette tattooed on his left forearm. He played in eight Ryder Cups, compiling a 20-12-5 record and winning 22 1/2 points from 37 matches.
Olazabal, who had an 11-5 record with Ballesteros as his partner, feels the tribute allows the five-time major champion to be with the team "every step of the way.
“Seve was an important part of The Ryder Cup because of
the way he played and conducted himself from his opening match in
1979," Olazabal said. "This is the first time since then that he
has not been present in anyway because in 2010 he was able to talk
to everyone via the telephone.
“Seve set a wonderful example to generations of golfers and for me there are many, many memories particularly involving The Ryder Cup. Now the best tribute we can pay to Seve is to go on playing for him and his image will certainly ensure he is alongside us throughout the week.”
During his press conference on Monday, Olazabal declined to answer when a reporter asked him whether the European Team would wear Ballesteros' signature blue and white on Sunday.
"I have to say in that regard that I talked to Davis regarding that question ... and he was very understanding of it, and I'll say no more at the moment," Olazabal said.