But two of Ballesteros’s most celebrated matches involved an American who matched him in desire. In years gone by it might have been the fiery Dave Hill or Lanny Wadkins and nowadays it might be Patrick Reed. But in the ’80s and ’90s it was Paul Azinger.
In his singles against Azinger at the 1989 match Ballesteros met someone almost as passionate and competitive as he. Trouble was almost inevitable and sparks began to fly as early as the second green at The Belfry where Ballesteros wanted to change his scuffed ball. Azinger, later backed up by Andy McFee, the match referee, refused to agree. Even so, Ballesteros won the hole. Azinger, putting from nearer the hole, missed.
Azinger: “Seve said to me: ‘OK, if this is the way you want to play today we can play this way.’ When that happened it hit me like a ton of bricks. When he said that to me it was game on. You get two guys that are really patriotic and it’s heads-up match play, me on you. It’s all out.”
McFee: “Azinger was raging ‘bloody Seve’ as they went up the third hole. Paul’s point was that Seve had done that to get under his skin. He thought that was gamesmanship on Seve’s part. The rest of the game nothing was conceded. There was a really tough atmosphere between the guys.”
Bad as it was, it soon got worse. On the 18th, Azinger was 1 up and hit his drive into a lake to the left of the fairway. Seeing this, Ballesteros drove well to the right, a long way back from the green. McFee was called in to determine where Azinger’s ball had crossed the hazard and therefore where he could drop it.
McFee made his ruling but Ballesteros, who had by now crossed from his side of the fairway to the hazard, disagreed and started shouting, “No, no, no.”
McFee: “He was shouting and screaming for some time until I went over and said: ‘This is done now. You need to get on with your side of things.’ ”
“It was a classic case of the median. Zinger wanted 40 yards up the left bank and Seve wanted to go another 30 yards back. That’s 70 yards between the two guys.”
Azinger hit a brilliant shot into a greenside bunker and got up and down to salvage a half with Ballesteros, who had hit his second shot into the guardian lake in front of the 18th green, and win the match.
As he was prone do, Ballesteros brooded darkly on this apparent injustice. Four years later he bumped into McFee. “You gave him the wrong drop on the 18th. You cost me that Ryder Cup match,” Ballesteros said.
“No, I didn’t,” McFee protested. “You hit it into the water not me.”
Reflecting recently, McFee observed: “Seve never forgot anything.”
Fine, that is, until the opening match in the Ryder Cup two years later when Chip Beck and Azinger faced Ballesteros and Olazábal. Beck and Olazábal drove on the first hole of their foursomes match. In those days Ryder Cup rules were that whatever compression ball a player started with, he had to continue to use that on every hole he drove at thereafter. On the seventh, Olazábal thought he saw that the Americans had not changed their ball as they should. “I noticed that Chip and Paul had played a 100 compression ball on the last hole and were playing a 100 compression there,” Olazábal, who was driving on the odd holes with Beck, said. “Chip was using a different compression ball on the first. I knew by the colour. One was marked in red and one in black.”
After the ninth hole Ballesteros accused the Americans of changing their balls. The referee, Warren Orlich, was called. Discussion went on for 20 minutes. At one point Azinger said heatedly: “Are you accusing us of cheating?” Ballesteros replied: “No, no. I never say you cheat. I say you make mistake.”
Azinger: “We got to a par-5 that we can’t reach in two and I said to Chip: ‘I’ll hit my ball off the tee. You can lay up and then I’ll be able to hit my ball into the green.’ We’re not allowed to do that. That was our first mistake. It was strategic stupidity, just forgetting the rules. They didn’t say anything and claimed we did it again on No 8. To be honest I don’t think we did.”
The referee ruled that because it was match play the challenge had to be made at the end of the hole where the offence had taken place.
Olazábal: “The ball they used on the ninth was the correct one so nothing could happen. We were well down but Seve and I shook hands and I said: ‘Seve, it doesn’t matter. We are going to beat them today. Let’s play golf from now on. We shot 4-under on the back nine and beat them, 2 and 1.”
In the afternoon four-balls, the two pairs met once more. And again the Europeans won. “I played my best golf I ever played in my life,” Azinger said. “I made eight birdies in 16 holes at Kiawah – and we lost.”
After Saturday’s play Lanny Wadkins’s US team led Europe, 9-7, and one question facing Gallacher on the Saturday night was where to play Ballesteros in the next day’s singles. “I wanted him at No 1, out of the way,” Gallacher said. “Seve came to me in the locker room and asked: ‘Where are you going to put me tomorrow?’ I said No 1.”
Ballesteros: “You can’t put me at No 1.”
Gallacher: “I said: ‘If you don’t want to be No 1, do you want to play No 12?’ ”
Ballesteros: “No, no. It’ll come to the match and I’ll let the team down.”
Gallacher: “Seve, Lanny is going to go for the jugular. They are two points ahead and I want all my best players in the middle. That’s where the battlefield is going to be. Sam (Torrance), Monty (Colin Montgomerie) and (Bernhard) Langer are all there and (Nick) Faldo is (No) 8. If we don’t win the battle there, we are going to lose the Ryder Cup. I want you to play No 1.”
Ballesteros: “Ah, OK. I’ll play No 1.”