Golf: Ballesteros caught in Spanish inquisition: National hero in heated debate with federation about the 1997 Ryder Cup venue

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The Independent Online
SEVE BALLESTEROS launched a vitriolic attack on the Spanish Golf Federation yesterday, signifying that the gloves are off in a bout of political in-fighting over the destination of the 1997 Ryder Cup. The inquisition starts here.

The cause of the animosity is what Ballesteros perceives as a lack of consultation over the Ryder Cup. The biennial contest between Europe and the United States will be held in Spain in three years' time and the number of candidates is growing. Spain first made its bid to host the 1993 Cup which was awarded instead to The Belfry. Ballesteros played a part in that bid.

'They asked for my help and to make the presentation,' Ballesteros said. 'When at last it was given to Spain nobody called me, nobody congratulated me and nobody asked for my opinion. The most normal thing would have been to consult various people and to present a united candidature.

'Now we are all in a fight to see who wins. It's incredible that these people are arm wrestling with me when it is I who has brought the Ryder Cup here. My importance in this is undoubted. It is bad that I should say so but I have to say it because no one else says it.'

In 1981, following a row with the European Tour over the question of appearance money, Ballesteros was omitted from the Ryder Cup team. Two years later he was persuaded by Tony Jacklin to play and his contribution since then has helped to raise Europe's stature and the status of the match. Ballesteros was recently appointed, in place of Jacklin, to the Ryder Cup committee.

The Spanish Federation will present the candidates and the committee will choose the venue, probably as early as May. 'If I had decided not to play in the Ryder Cup in 1983 it is possible that the event would have disappeared altogether,' Ballesteros said.

He will unashamedly use his position on the committee to promote the cause of the club at Novo Sancti Petri near Cadiz. He has a vested interest in that he designed the course. 'The Federation says it has to remain neutral but in this, as in other matters, there is a lack of dialogue. Novo Sancti Petri is one of the best. The Ryder Cup should be played in a tourist area. It would be a grave error to play it in Madrid. It must go to the south.'

The latest addition to the list of candidates, which includes Valderrama in Sotogrande, is the course here. Montecastillo in Jerez, which hosts the Turespana Masters this week, was designed by Jack Nicklaus and built with French money. There is no doubt the location could handle a major event - it is right next door to the Formula One circuit that has staged the Spanish Grand Prix. Nicklaus said he would do everything in his power to bring the Ryder Cup to Jerez. Nicklaus, who officially opened the course yesterday, will play with Ballesteros, who will do everything in his power to take the Cup to Cadiz, in the first two rounds. Also in the field are Nicklaus's sons, Jackie and Gary.

This is Ballesteros's first tournament of the year following a dismal 1993 during which he failed, for the first time in 17 years, to win in Europe. Part of the cause was his ailing back and he has spent two months working with a specialist (the man who looks after the Chicago Cubs baseball team) in Phoenix, Arizona, where he did five hours of exercises every day.

'My rehabilitation programme consists of strengthening all the muscles around the spine to keep it straight,' Ballesteros said. 'My back has always been an important handicap. Last year it was very bad. I couldn't sleep for the pain. I have been through chiropractors and witches and they haven't helped. The injury is a product of a general wasting away of the spinal column, typical of a person who has undergone a lot of training. I practised a heck of a lot between the ages of 10 and 25. The problem with golf is that the turn is not natural.'

Nor, in his opinion, is the influence on the game of modern technology a natural progression. 'It has led to a great equality between the very good, the good and the not so good. With all due respect, if Nicklaus had chosen this epoch he would never have won so many tournaments. Sport should test the strength, ability and intelligence of a human being but if you give him the tools and technology so that he doesn't have to think or use his strength then something is missing.'

Ballesteros has changed his swing, making refinements modelled on Sam Snead. 'I've been reading a book at home about Snead and in my opinion he had the best swing in the history of golf. I have great optimism. I have nothing to prove. I don't know what a person who has the best record of all time in Europe would have to prove. I have no doubt I can play in the great tournaments at the highest level.'

Ballesteros said that the pain in Spain has made him mentally stronger. 'I have a lot of pride and now it is damaged. It gives me strength and makes me more aggressive. The last couple of years have confirmed what I already knew. That I have few friends, many acquaintances and very many enemies.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- CARD OF THE COURSE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par 1st 351 4 2nd 221 3 11th 234 3 3rd 564 5 12th 522 5 4th 381 4 13th 424 4 5th 416 4 14th 172 3 6th 413 4 15th 464 4 7th 432 4 16th 517 5 8th 190 3 17th 374 4 9th 517 5 18th 422 4 10th 410 4 Out: 3,485 36 In: 3,539 36 Total: 7,024 72 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)