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In the late-1980s and early 1990s one pairing dominated the Ryder Cup, and it all started at the venue for this week's Memorial Tournament.
Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal played together a record 15 times in the Ryder Cup - the most frequent pairing in its history. The pair forged their legendary alliance in the 1987 event at Muirfield Village. They would go on to win six of their eight foursomes and five of their seven fourballs from then until 1993, winning 12 points in total. Not only did the duo harness an immense will to win to become so successful, they also each possessed incredible short games that frequently saw them snatch points or halve holes from seemingly forlorn situations.
Now a veteran of the game, Jose Maria Olazabal looks back on the origins of the greatest ever Ryder Cup partnership fondly. He said: “We knew the night before that we would be paired together. Tony [Jacklin, that year’s European Captain] didn’t know what to do with me. I was a rookie, I played well in 1986 when I was second behind Seve on the money list but I didn’t play that well in 1987. But Seve told Tony that we would be OK. I had never seen the Ryder Cup before, it was a totally new experience. I was used to playing in front of crowds but not like this. But playing alongside Seve I felt very comfortable, the pressure was there but I felt calm.”
Olazabal says as they approached the first tee, the more experienced Ballesteros had all the right words to steady any nerves his rookie partner – who was just 21 at the time – might have otherwise felt. He said: “Seve and I left the putting green seven minutes before our tee time. The walk to the first tee would have been 50 yards, the ropes were really narrow, the gap was really narrow, there were lots of people left and right and everybody was shouting, ‘U-S-A, U-S-A’. As we neared the tee, Seve approached me and said ‘Jose, just play your golf and I will take care of the rest'. And that was it."
Europe went on to win the tournament 15-13, inflicting on the USA its first Ryder Cup defeat on home soil in 60 years, which included an afternoon whitewash of their opponents on the Friday. Olazabal credits his old playing partner with driving the team to arguably its most legendary win. He said: “Seve was pretty much the spirit of the team, the way he talked, the way he looked at you, the way he looked at every member of the team, the self-belief, everything transpired through him. From my point of view he was the core and the spirit of the team.”
That win provided the impetus for an incredible partnership that included a golden run of eight games unbeaten between 1989 and 1991. The legendary link-up finally came to an end with the 1993 Saturday fourballs, but by then, history had been made from a partnership whose influence would stretch long into the future.
Mike has 25 years of experience in journalism, including writing on sports such as golf, football and cricket. Now a freelance writer for Golf Monthly, he is dedicated to covering the sport’s most newsworthy stories. Originally from East Yorkshire, Mike now resides in Canada, where the nearest course is less than a mile from his home. It’s there where he remains confident that, one of these days, he’ll play the 17th without finding the water. Kevin Cook’s acclaimed 2007 biography, Tommy’s Honour, about golf’s founding father and son, remains one of his all-time favourite sports books.
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