Ballesteros was so intrinsically linked with the event that his legend will provide an inspiration to Europe's showing in Medinah. It would also be a surprise if José María Olazábal, who leads the European bid for a rare win in the United States, does not offer the words and actions of his late countryman to his players at some stage. Olazábal began his golfing life in awe of Ballesteros and they became formidable Ryder Cup partners.
Ballesteros revelled in triumphs in the United States. Individually or as part of a team, the five-time major winner loved nothing more than beating Americans. Olazábal would never lack motivation to retain the Ryder Cup, but thoughts of Ballesteros will offer an emotional dynamic to proceedings. Still, from the captain there is caution. "We don't want people so emotional they can't play," Olazábal warned earlier this year.
Olazábal has the mark of a strong captain. The stature he is afforded by virtually all of his fellow players has been obvious in the lead up to the event in Chicago. They point out the respect Olazábal would command in any team room, not least when he speaks, and the empathy the Spaniard has for those around him. There seems little chance of Olazábal succumbing to that cardinal sin of offending members of his own side, as others have done to their cost.
"He is a very passionate man and player, but he is really passionate about the Ryder Cup," explains Lee Westwood of Olazábal. "The Seve effect has obviously rubbed off on him, having partnered him and played in Ryder Cups with him. But if you forget the Seve influence and just look at the kind of man he is, the kind of professional he is, he will bring a great attitude and emotion, cajoling the players to their top form. He is great to inspire people. When he gives a speech to a team, he is as good as I have ever seen."
Indeed, players have consistently highlighted Olazábal's team-room talk two years ago at Celtic Manor – he was one of Colin Montgomerie's vice-captains – as a crucial component in Europe's victory. "When Ollie speaks, everyone listens," Montgomerie said.
Ian Poulter, who, like Westwood, will be such an influential figure in Olazábal's side, added: "José has been there at a number of the past Ryder Cups and everything he's had to say was perfect. Everybody has a huge amount of respect for José, and everybody lives and breathes the Ryder Cup through José and what he means to the Ryder Cup. So I think he's a perfect captain, someone who's going to lead us forward in the right way. I'm honoured to be part of that team."
Olazábal also has a stubborn streak and capability to throw a fierce, chilling glare. His infamous clash with Padraig Harrington at the 2003 Seve Trophy was raised again after the Irishman failed to earn a wildcard pick for this Ryder Cup. On that occasion, Olazábal vehemently objected to his integrity being called into question on the course by a fellow player, thereby completing the final 15 holes of the match in stony silence and refusing to accept Harrington's explanation of the affair.
In Olazábal's defence, nobody with a close knowledge of his character believes an incident of nine years ago would have played a part in his captain's picks, and Harrington was barely deserving of one. But when Olazábal is crossed, he is not the type to shrug his shoulders and move on.
Yet he can also practice diplomacy. At this year's Scottish Open, when asked about the influence of equipment on the game, Olazábal simply pointed out technological advances have been the same for every player. The smile delivered with his answer hinted at stronger, and different, private feelings on the topic.
At Medinah, Olazábal has Davis Love III as a direct opponent. "We go back a long way," said Europe's captain. "We turned professional the same year. We have played a lot of times together. We have played against each other quite a few times at the Ryder Cup. We are kind of similar guys. I think we are kind of sentimental in a way."
It would have been a shame had Sergio García not made the late burst he admirably achieved to take his place in European colours. Spain has had playing representation in the Ryder Cup ever since the format was extended to involve a full European team. Like Ballesteros and Olazábal, García has an enthusiasm for this competition that all of his peers regard as positively infectious.
Olazábal emulated Ballesteros by winning two Masters titles. Yet leading Europe to a Ryder Cup triumph on American soil would surely mean more to the 46 year old. It would almost certainly trigger tears. Those who believe in such things will point to Olazábal's cause being boosted by the sprinkling of a little gold dust from above.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Eugene Goh