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Ryder Cup… and the Spanish Connection

[caption id="attachment_1955" align="alignright" width="300"] Vice captains José María Olazábal and Miguel Ángel Jiménez (Photo: Getty Images)[/caption] When the biennial Ryder Cup competition was floundering in the 1970s a bold and inspired decision was made to open up the Great Britain & Ireland team to continental Europeans. Up to and including the 1977 Cup, the US team had won 18 of the 22 matches since the first event in 1927, with the British and Irish tallying a meagre three victories and the 1969 competition famously tied when Jack Nicklaus conceded an awkward putt to Tony Jacklin on the 18th hole of their deciding match. [caption id="attachment_1959" align="alignright" width="300"] Captains Tom Watson and Paul McGinley[/caption] Since then, the sorry status quo for the Europeans has been turned around completely: eight victories in 16 matches, with seven wins for the Americans and one match tied. As the two teams prepare once again for fierce battle next week (26-28 September), the Europeans head to Gleneagles in Scotland as the home favourites seeking a third triumph in a row after their sensational last-gasp victory two years ago at Medinah Country Club. In what was dubbed the “Miracle of Medinah”, the Europeans – dressed in the favourite colours of the late Severiano Ballesteros, with his famous logo on their bags and led by captain and Spanish compatriot José María Olazábal – came back from a seemingly impossible four points behind overnight to win the first five individual games on the Sunday and eventually retain the Cup with a 14ö-13ö margin. [caption id="attachment_1965" align="alignleft" width="300"] Cup powerhouse in 2012 Ian Poulter (Photo: Getty Images)[/caption] For Olazábal especially, vice captain Miguel Ángel Jiménez and the only Spanish player on that team, Sergio García, the win could only be dedicated to the memory and spirit of Ballesteros, who had died tragically the previous year after suffering from a brain tumour. Ballesteros had arguably had more of an influence over the Europeans’ fortunes than any other single player in the previous three decades, although Jacklin also played a significant role, serving as non-playing captain in four consecutive Ryder Cups from 1983 to 1989, and leading the Europeans to their first victory for 28 years in 1985, and their first ever win in the United States in 1987. Ballesteros and fellow Spaniard Antonio Garrido were the first continental Europeans to play in the Ryder Cup when the eligibility rules were changed for the 1979 match. Manuel Piñero (designer of La Quinta course in Marbella) and José María Cañizares made their debuts in 1981 (together with German Bernhard Langer), but Seve was controversially voted off the team because of an ongoing dispute with the European Tour about appearance money. He was back in favour in 1983, joined by Cañizares, and two years later the 12-man team had a decidedly Spanish Armada look with Ballesteros, Cañizares, Piñero and José Rivero making it an Iberian quartet. Olázabal made his debut in 1987 and Ignacio Garrido (son of Antonio) in 1997. [caption id="attachment_1967" align="alignleft" width="199"] Spain's only player this year, Sergio García (Photo: Getty Images)[/caption] That year, Valderrama in Sotogrande made history as the first club outside the United States or Great Britain to host the event, which by then had become the biggest golf tournament after the majors. Tiger Woods had a particularly torrid time in Spain, winning just one fourball and halving a foursome in his first four matches, then being walloped in the singles 4&2 by Italian Costantino Rocca. In another historic first, Ballesteros became the first Spaniard to captain the team, leading them in his indomitably competitive way to a shaky 14ö-13ö victory after leading 10ö-5ö going into the final day. One of his vice-captains was Jiménez, who qualified for the team as a player two years later – together with García. This year, both Jiménez and Olázabal are back as non-playing vice-captains for captain Paul McGinley’s important backroom team – the pony-tailed Málaga star no doubt ready to dispense celebratory cigars and vino tinto if the Europeans overcome their rivals. [caption id="attachment_1951" align="alignright" width="300"] Superb golf setting in Benahavís[/caption] Back home on the Costa del Sol golfers who are not watching the matches in person will be able to enjoy the action on screens at one of the Coast’s 60 clubs (the highest density in Europe). And, for those who haven’t settled here yet or bought a golf holiday home, perhaps think about buying a new house on or near a golf course – like this stunning villa in Marbella Club Golf Resort. Click here to see more.