It is now 37 years since the Great Britain & Ireland team was expanded to include continental Europeans in the biennial Ryder Cup competition against the United States. Severiano Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido became the first Spanish representatives in that historic 1979 match, helping to trigger a significant new dynamic in the tournament as the Americans’ domination waned and the Europeans gained the ascendency in the 21st century.
Since then, several of their compatriots have joined them in the Ryder Cup ranks: José María Cañizares and Manuel Piñero (1981), José Rivero (1983), José María Olazábal (1987), Ignacio Garrido (1997) and Miguel Ángel Jiménez (1999). Miguel Ángel Martin qualified for the 1997 match but was controversially dropped from the team due to injury concerns. Ballesteros (1997 at Valderrama) and Olazábal (2012 “Miracle at Medinah”) have also triumphed in the competition as non-playing captains.
Now their numbers have been boosted to 10, with Rafael Cabrera Bello set to make his debut at Hazeltine on 30 September. The Canary Isles star was delighted after securing his qualification for the 2016 event. “I grew up watching the Ryder Cup and it is without doubt the most exciting event in golf. I remember watching it on TV and dreaming of playing in it one day. Spain has such a strong connection and tradition with the Ryder Cup as well so it means a lot for me to make it.”
Cabrera-Bello will be joined by – and possibly form a pairs partnership with – Sergio García in Minnesota. García is a veteran of seven Ryder Cups and was one of Colin Montgomerie’s vice-captains at Celtic Manor in 2010, when Europe won by a point.
The other members of the 2016 European team, to be led by non-playing captain Darren Clarke, are: Matthew Fitzpatrick, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett and Chris Wood as the automatic qualifiers, and wild-cards Martin Kaymer, Thomas Pieters and Lee Westwood.
The US team will be finalised during the FedEx Cup series on the PGA Tour, when Davis Love makes his four captain’s picks. The eight who have qualified automatically are: Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker.
Love’s vice-captains are Jim Furyk, Tom Lehman, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods; while Clarke will be supported by Thomas Bjorn, Padraig Harrington, Paul Lawrie, Ian Poulter and Sam Torrance.