Irish fans can save day says Seve

By Brian Keogh

Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros is backing Ireland's golf mad fans to turn a potential damp squib into another matchplay firecracker.

While there are no Irishmen taking part in the fifth edition of the Seve Trophy, the five-time major winner believes the Irish public will come out in their droves - rain, hail or snow.

With Padraig Harrington pulling out through injury and Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Paul McGinley failing to qualify or even land a wildcard from GB&I skipper Nick Faldo, ticket sales have been slow.

But Ballesteros - who won three Irish Opens in the 80s - is counting on the Irish fans to save the day.

Seve said: "Unfortunately, there is no Irish player. But it could happen in the future, and I am serious about what I am saying, that there might not be a British player in the Ryder Cup team.

"I have no doubt that the Heritage will be full of people this week. It is one of the reasons we are here. The Irish people never let down any competition in Ireland, whether it is the Irish Open or a local tournament.

"They always show up, even if it is raining or snowing, or anything. Look at the Seve Trophy at Druids Glen, when we played for the first time in Ireland in 2002.

"Nobody knew about the competition when it was played for the first time. But there were thousands of people there.

"I don't have any doubt that the people will show up. These people are great players and they will put on a great show for the people to watch. There is no question about that."

Harrington, Clarke and McGinley played in that rain-lashed 2002 match at Druids Glen which will be remembered for Seve's incredible one-hole win over Colin Montgomerie in the singles.

But with lesser known names like GB&I's Phillip Archer, Marc Warren and Oliver Wilson taking on continentals such as Peter Hanson, Markus Brier and Gregory Havret, there are genuine fears for the success of the event.

Ever the optimist, Ballesteros has no doubt that the event can get out from behind a major tree and still make birdie.

And he points out that while many of the players on his side are hardly household names, they can still become superstars.

Eyes flashing, Ballesteros said: "A new generation has arrived and if you look at the tour, a lot of people say that there are no names. There are no good players.

"But they are all champions, they are all good players. The point is that it takes time to build up your name.

"Look at my team: We have Mikko Ilonen from Finland, Soren Hansen from Denmark, Markus Brier from Austria. We have Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, a new young champion from Spain. If you take this team and show it to the people in general, they may say that it is not a good team.

"But it is not true. It is a good team. The problem is that it takes time to build up your own name.

"When Fuzzy Zoeller went to Augusta for the first time, he won the Masters. Nobody knew Fuzzy Zoeller. But he became a very good player."

With the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, the Royal Trophy and the World Cup adding to any already packed schedule, Ballesteros still believes that there should be more team events like the Seve Trophy

Wall-to-wall TV coverage and a diet of strokeplay tedium is killing the public's appetite for golf.

And Seve is convinced that there room must be made for the cut and thrust of matchplay combat on TV screens.

He rapped: "How many events are there on the European Tour? 53? There is too much golf. I think there should be no more than 37 tournaments, or 35, on the European Tour.

"When you see week by week the same thing, that is when you get bored or saturated by too much golf. The same thing happened with tennis before. It is like football. Suppose that you have football throughout the year, every Sunday. Sooner or later you get fed up, that is why you have an off season.

"How many team events do you have. Seve Trophy, Ryder Cup, the Royal Trophy in Thailand and Presidents Cup and the World Cup. It is only five tournaments. It is nothing.

"Matchplay is more exciting that watching medal play. Medal play you have to keep the score and it automatically becomes very defensive. Matchplay is very aggressive. It gives you the chance to make an eight or nine on one hole and then start over again on the next hole."

"I don't have any doubt that since we started playing the Seve Trophy, we have become more successful in the Ryder Cup.

"It is a good warm up for Nick Faldo as Ryder Cup captain next year. He will learn from the possible mistakes that he will make this week.

"The good captain in the Ryder Cup has to make sure that he transmits that everyone is equally important. He has to create a good atmosphere and he has to be very optimistic. Obviously he needs a good eye to make sure that he picks the right pairings.

"Nick has changed a little bit in the last few years. He is more open now to people and he is more approachable. I am sure that you people, the press, have noticed that already. He will be good. Of course. No doubt."