By Mark Lamport-Stokes
ATLANTA (Reuters) - The spirit and passion of the late Seve Ballesteros will infuse the European team with extra energy against the United States at next week's Ryder Cup, fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia has predicted.
Ballesteros, who died last year at the age of 54 after a long battle with brain cancer, was one of Europe's most inspirational figures at the Ryder Cup where he compiled an impressive 20-12-5 record as a player.
"Seve is important to all of us Europeans," Garcia told Reuters while competing in this week's Tour Championship, the PGA Tour's fourth and final FedExCup playoff event. "We all know how much Seve meant to the Ryder Cup and to the game itself.
"Unfortunately he is gone but he will certainly be there next week in our minds and I am sure he will be pushing us hard from up top," the 32-year-old added while pointing to the heavens.
Along with Briton Tony Jacklin, Ballesteros was chiefly responsible for reviving Europe's fortunes in the biennial team competition in the early 1980s and he went on to captain Europe to Ryder Cup victory at Valderrama in Spain in 1997.
Garcia will have no shortage of Spanish Ryder Cup inspiration at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago next week as his compatriot Jose Maria Olazabal will captain the 12-man European team.
"Jose is going to be an amazing captain," Garcia said with a smiled. "I've had him before as a Ryder Cup vice-captain, and he was great, so I'm really looking forward to seeing him as a captain.
"I just hope that we can all play as good as we know we can to help him win it."
Garcia, a veteran of five Ryder Cups who has been on three winning teams, was elated to qualify automatically for this year's competition after missing out on selection for the 2010 matches at Celtic Manor in Wales due to poor form.
"Everybody knows how much it means to me," said the Spaniard, a 10-times winner on the European Tour who has built a superb 14-6-4 record at the Ryder Cup. "It was one of my main goals this year.
"I am really excited about it and I am really looking forward to it. I know it's going to be a hard week at Medinah but it's great to be a part of it."
Garcia secured an automatic spot on the 2012 European team by winning his eighth PGA Tour title at the Wyndham Championship in August.
While holders Europe will be aiming to win the Ryder Cup for only the fourth time on U.S. soil, Garcia believes the significance of home advantage has dissipated over the years.
"Maybe in the past when people couldn't travel as much it was a bigger advantage," the Spaniard said. "Nowadays, the Europeans are used to playing these kinds of courses and many of us play regularly on the PGA Tour.
"Plus I think you get bigger European crowds when we come over here to the United States for the Ryder Cup. It's obviously an advantage to be at home, there's no doubt, but I don't think it is as big as it used to be."
The 39th Ryder Cup will be played on Medinah Country Club's No. 3 Course in Medinah, Illinois from September 28-30.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)