Ballesteros handed the Ryder Cup reins

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The Independent Online
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Seve Ballesteros, named yesterday as Europe's Ryder Cup captain for the match against the United States in Spain next year, has wasted no time in winning his first concession. "I have not ruled out being a playing captain," he said. "My desire is that I will be playing well enough to take on both roles."

However, he has inserted a rider, a sort of double indemnity to cover all eventualities. "If I qualify for the team but I feel I am not playing well enough to take my spot, I wanted the option of selecting another player of my choice," Ballesteros said: he described it as the "captain's option". One option he does not contemplate is choosing himself if he does not qualify.

As before, the leading 10 players in the money list automatically qualify with Ballesteros selecting the remaining two. Last year he said Europe needed more wild cards but yesterday accepted the unanimous view of the Ryder Cup committee not to change the system.

Ballesteros, who will be 39 on the eve of the Masters at Augusta in April, succeeds Bernard Gallacher, who finished a three-match term on a high with victory at Oak Hill, Rochester last September. Ballesteros is the first Continental captain for the Cup's first Continental venue, Valderrama in southern Spain.

Nobody will expect an orthodox ride with Ballesteros at the wheel. A buccaneer on the course, he is prone to blasting a battery of loose cannons off it. He has been an ever-present in Europe's Ryder Cup team since 1979 apart from 1981 when he was controversially omitted following a row over appearance money. At the time Americans were given financial inducements to make appearances in Europe and Ballesteros, as a major winner, felt he was entitled to similar treatment. The Tour resisted and Neil Coles, then chairman of the selection committee and the current chairman of the Tour's board of directors, voted against the Spaniard's inclusion.

Ballesteros's relationship with authority on the matter of the Ryder Cup has since lurched between love and hate. Six years ago, he made an impassioned plea that the 1993 Ryder Cup should be staged at Club de Campo in Madrid. He was supported by the European Tour but the PGA favoured The Belfry. The stalemate was broken by the late Lord Derby who was president of both bodies. Despite the fact that Spain was promised the Cup in 1997 Ballesteros said: "I feel very disillusioned. My motivation will not be the same."

Two years ago, seven clubs in Spain bid to host the biennial match for '97 and Ballesteros promoted Novo Sancti Petri, a public course which he designed. It stood no chance against Valderrama, an exclusive club owned by Bolivian billionaire Jaime Ortiz-Patino and venue for the Volvo Masters. Prior to the meeting that chose Valderrama, Ballesteros alleged Patino offered him a $1m (pounds 649,000) "sweetener" to support his bid and hinted that Ryder Cup officials had been bribed. The club said the offer was for Ballesteros' help in redesigning the 17th at Valderrama. Ballesteros resigned from the Ryder Cup committee.

The matter blew over and Ballesteros, has since made further changes to the infamous 17th again. Yesterday he said: "It is a great honour for me to captain the team particularly as the Cup will be in Spain. That gives me great personal satisfaction."

The last playing captain was Arnold Palmer in 1963, but Tom Kite, the new US captain, has not ruled out the possibility. "Seve will bring his inspirational qualities as captain just as he has as a player," Ken Schofield, the European Tour's executive director, said. "He has been the clear candidate, indeed the only candidate." Gallacher said: "I don't think Seve was the only choice but he is the best choice. I don't think a playing captain is the ideal solution but it can be done."

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