Party line carries day: Robert Green explains how Ryder Cup victory was teed up for Valderrama

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AFTER all the intemperate accusations, the acknowledgement of defeat was ultimately delivered with grace.

Last Thursday, Seve Ballesteros wished Valderrama and its owner, Jaime Ortiz-Patino, well in their capacity as hosts for the 1997 Ryder Cup. In reluctantly having to accept that his course at Novo Sancti Petri - as well as seven others - had been rendered unsuccessful candidates by the previous day's announcement, Ballesteros's outwardly serene demeanour was made possible by the fact he had never genuinely expected any other outcome.

Officially, the decision rested with the six members of the Ryder Cup committee - three men from the PGA and three from the European tour. Ballesteros was one of the latter until he resigned earlier this month.

The PGA representatives were not going to argue vehemently - they want their choice, possibly The Belfry, to get the nod in the PGA's centenary year of 2001. The three tour members were going to toe the party line. And the party line was overwhelmingly in favour of Valderrama.

The PGA European Tour hierachy wanted it. So did Volvo, the tour's corporate sponsor, which holds its season-ending Volvo Masters at the club. At the Masters at Augusta last month, Ken Schofield, executive director of the tour, and George O'Grady, his deputy, were regular companions of Patino and Mel Pyatt of Volvo. While Ballesteros was waiting for Jose Maria Olazabal to return from his victory dinner on the Sunday night, O'Grady and Richard Hills, the Ryder Cup director, were having dinner with Patino in Augusta.

Without implying anything untoward, it could be pointed out that Sir Ian MacLaurin, director of Valderrama, is a non-executive director of Guinness, the owners of United Distillers, which is the parent company of Johnnie Walker, the sponsor of the Ryder Cup. With friends like that, Valderrama could afford to have an enemy in Ballesteros.

In fact, Valderrama may well be the correct choice. The course was ranked the best in continental Europe in a poll, and the European players' annual experience of it means they may better be able to cope than their American opponents with the demands it poses. Granted it is as un-Spanish as a Spanish golf club could be - given its location on the west end of the Costa del Sol, one is tempted to call it a golfing Gibraltar - but Patino's wealth should help smooth over any potential glitches.

Yesterday, Ballesteros and Ortiz-Patino met for the first time since their bellicose verbal exchanges. 'You were too much for me to handle,' Ballesteros said with a smile. With the power Patino packed in this contest, anyone would have been outpunched.