Where all these fans are going to crash for the night is also a concern. (Both Ryder Cup teams will be sequestered at the swanky San Roque Club, which is next door to Valderrama and earned high marks from Kite.) The coastline is dotted with places to stay, ranging from charming Andalusian villas to utilitarian high-rise hotels to shockingly cheesy tourist resorts. However, there are not enough of any of them, even with the four "floating hotels" (cruise ships that will dock offshore) that will be brought in for the Ryder Cup, and tales of price gouging are already making the rounds.
Valderrama has also been criticized for being too short. "This is not a Ryder Cup course," said David Frost at the Volvo Masters. "There are too many short holes." That's poppycock, according to Colin Montgomerie. "Just look at the scores here," said Monty. "Par here is a very good score." It certainly was for him. Monty finished eight over, 16 strokes in back of McNulty, but he still ended up on top of the European tour's money list for the fourth straight year, with £875,146 ($1,474,187).
Although the Volvo Masters has been held at Valderrama for nine years, seemingly giving the Europeans a home-field advantage next September, there is a widespread feeling that the course is somehow better suited to the Yanks. "It's a very American course, too American," says Northern Ireland's Ronan Rafferty, who feels that Valderrama's imposed hazards and the subsequent need to play high, marshmallowy approach shots are more typical of U.S. layouts. It's an interesting debate, but Jiménez says, "There is too much talk about the course. In the Ryder Cup you don't compete against the course, you compete against the player. That is what you need to talk about."
Yes, and there is so much to say. "You hear a lot about all the good young players in America," says Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland. "We have some over here, too." Clarke, 28, is a strapping 6'3" and 17 stone (238 pounds), and 1996 equaled the best of his six years on tour—he won his second tournament, the German Masters, and finished eighth on the money list. His powerful game and fearless style took him to the brink of making the last two Ryder Cup teams, and he looks like a sure thing in '97, as he is fourth on the points list. (The top 10 automatically qualify, and Ballesteros, like Kite, has two captain's choices.)
Clarke could easily be joined by Alexander Cejka, the Czech native who lives in Germany and won last year's Volvo Masters as well as two other tournaments. Cejka, 26, was seduced by the PGA Tour this season and entered only 12 tournaments in Europe. "Unfortunately, you can't have the experience of playing in America and also earn Ryder Cup points in Europe," says Cejka, who is not among the top 50 on the points list. He is leaning toward playing a full schedule in Europe next year to make up for lost time.
The two up-and-comers battling for the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award have displayed enough talent for Ballesteros to take notice. "[Padraig] Harrington and [Thomas] Bjorn are very impressive players," says Seve. Both 25-year-olds have won a tournament this year, Bjorn on the strength of his short game and Harrington with pluck and a crafty ability to escape trouble. Bjorn is second on the Ryder Cup points list, Harrington 19th and heading north. "For the future of the Ryder Cup we need some young stars to step forward," says Bjorn, whose victory last month in the Loch Lomond World Invitational made him the first Dane to win on the European tour. "The same handful of older players have been carrying us for so long, and now is our time."
Yes, Nick Faldo remains a pillar, Montgomerie a star, Woosnam (four wins, second on the money list) had his best year since 1990, and Costantino Rocca (fourth in earnings) continued his strong play. But after that the lineup gets a bit dodgy. Four-time Cupper Jose Maria Olazabal's career may be over because of his arthritic feet, and Torrance is starting to play like a 43-year-old, with only three top-10 finishes in 20 tournaments. Bernhard Langer (eight straight Cups) hasn't played so poorly since 1979, having snapped his streak of winning a tournament in each of 16 straight years, as well as his tour record of making 68 straight cuts. (He missed three.) And there's Seve. Suffering from el gripe at the Volvo Masters, he shot a lethargic 74-76-76-78, finishing 62nd and ending a lousy year in which he placed 69th on the money list.
As Ballesteros, eight times a Ryder Cupper, continues his downward spiral, it becomes increasingly unlikely that he will play his way onto the team. With Faldo, now a mainstay on the U.S. Tour, a no-brainer as one of the captain's selections, will Ballesteros have the audacity to bum his last pick on himself? "Ask me next September," he says, between sniffs. "You say you only have a few questions, but then ask many. It is like the autograph seekers in restaurants who say, 'I'm sorry to bother you,' then do it anyway. I should be getting paid as a public relations man, not a golfer." It was nice to see that Ballesteros's Ryder Cup responsibilities had not become a strain.
Anyway, the possibilities are tantalizing. "We have only just started," Seve finally says. "To be talking about the team now is ridiculous."
A week at Valderrama has a way of setting the mind to wandering. "It's nice here, isn't it?" Clarke says. "I think I'll plan to come back in. September."