When Seve Ballesteros first lifted the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1979, the Spaniard represented a rare success story for European golf following decades of American dominance.
By the time Ballesteros returned to Lytham nine years later to secure his third triumph at The Open, the fortunes of his continent had been completely transformed, thanks largely to the ‘Famous Five’.
We look at how Ballesteros, Sir Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam - a quintet of men born just 11 months apart - were at the vanguard of a golden era, the effects of which are still being felt today.
A long-awaited breakthrough
There was no shortage of youthful promise shown by the men who would come to spearhead Europe’s golfing resurgence.
Lyle was only 16 when he played in The Open of 1974 at Royal Lytham & St Annes, while Faldo featured in the Ryder Cup three years later at the age of 20.
However, the most notable early-career breakthrough came from Ballesteros, as he burst on to the global scene at Royal Birkdale in 1976 on his way to the first of six European Tour Order of Merit titles.
Although Johnny Miller ultimately won The 105th Open at a canter, Seve was the name on everyone’s lips as the teenager, who led after each of the opening three rounds, thrilled the crowds with his flamboyant play.
The fact the Claret Jug eluded Ballesteros at Birkdale continued a theme of European players missing out on the sport’s biggest prizes. At that point, Tony Jacklin – the winner of The Open in 1969 and The U.S. Open in 1970 – was the sole European to have tasted major success since Max Faulkner’s triumph at Royal Portrush in 1951.
Yet Seve ended that drought in 1979 with his celebrated victory at Lytham, as he became the first Champion Golfer from Continental Europe in 72 years.
And another hugely significant development occurred later In the same year. Both he and Antonio Garrido featured in the Ryder Cup, after the struggling Great Britain and Ireland team was expanded to include players from across Europe.
The following year saw Ballesteros make more history as he became the first European winner of the Masters and only the second from overseas after Gary Player.
As an exciting new generation made their way in a rapidly changing game, Seve had shown his peers what was possible.
St Andrews triumph opens the floodgates
There was much more optimism around European golf by the time St Andrews played host to The 113th Open in 1984.
The previous year had seen Ballesteros, Faldo, Lyle, Langer and Woosnam all feature in the same Ryder Cup team for the first time, and they came agonisingly close to a shock victory on American soil.
Ballesteros, by now a two-time Masters winner, was determined to take the positives from Europe’s 14.5-13.5 defeat, as he urged his team-mates to focus on the fact they had proven they could compete with their illustrious rivals.
Already an inspirational figure, Seve duly ascended to new heights at The Old Course as he edged out Tom Watson and Langer to secure the Claret Jug for a second time, five years on from his first. What is more, his most famous victory triggered a glorious run of success for Europe.
The following year saw Langer and Lyle join Seve as major champions. Lyle won The 114th Open at Royal St George’s after Langer had prevailed in the Masters.
All of the ‘Famous Five’ were then involved as Europe triumphed in the 1985 Ryder Cup at The Belfry, inflicting a first defeat on the United States in 28 years.
It was clear the golfing landscape had shifted significantly, but Europe’s rising stars were only just getting started.
The wins keep on coming
In the year after Langer and Ballesteros had become the first two players to top the new Official World Golf Rankings, Faldo was the next to make a major breakthrough.
As the Champion Golfer of 1987 at Muirfield, he was the third European winner of The Open in four years, a remarkable statistic given the continent’s struggles in the preceding decades.
Just as had been the case in 1985, a European success at The Open was followed by another victorious Ryder Cup campaign, this one an historic success at Muirfield Village as the United States lost at home for the first time.
Ballesteros, Faldo, Lyle, Langer and Woosnam were all part of the team once again – cementing the reputation of a golden generation – and each of the next six years would bring significant successes for members of the Famous Five.
Seve’s third Open win and second at Lytham in 1988 was sandwiched between Masters victories for Lyle and Faldo, while Europe retained the Ryder Cup in the absence of the Scot in 1989.
Although the 1990s was a transitional decade for European golf, it began in familiar fashion. An increasingly clinical Faldo was at the peak of his powers as he claimed wins at Augusta and St Andrews in 1990 to double his haul of major wins.
Woosnam – a consistently impressive performer for much of the 1980s – then reached his own zenith in 1991, becoming the fourth successive European Masters winner and also following Langer, Ballesteros and Faldo in reaching the top of the Official World Golf Rankings.
The celebrations just kept on coming as Faldo captured the Claret Jug for a third time in 1992, before Langer earned a second Masters success in 1993.
Between them, the ‘Famous Five’ now boasted a remarkable 15 major titles – including seven Open wins - in the space of 14 years, along with those three transformative Ryder Cup successes and countless other accolades.
From 1976 to 1992, they had shared 15 of the 17 Order of Merit awards on the European Tour, each of the five topping the money list at least twice.
However, their performances in majors and Ryder Cups ensured their colossal impact stretched far beyond their home continent.
A lasting legacy
Faldo still had one more spectacular major victory to come, as he dramatically overhauled Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters, but the following year’s Ryder Cup would prove the end of an era.
Twenty years on from Faldo’s Ryder Cup debut, he and Woosnam featured in the contest for the last time as Europe triumphed at Valderrama under the captaincy of Ballesteros, whose own final playing appearance had come in another victory in 1995. Lyle had long since exited the Ryder Cup scene by this stage, while Langer made one further appearance in 2002.
By the mid-1990s, Europe did have another major champion in Jose Maria Olazabal. Almost a decade the junior of the ‘Famous Five’, Olazabal was a similarly significant factor in his team’s various Ryder Cup successes and he also won the Masters in 1994 before claiming a second green jacket in 1999.
Paul Lawrie’s extraordinary come-from-behind triumph at Carnoustie in The 128th Open represented another high point for Europe, and it would not be long before another wave of success came from generations of players who, like Lawrie, had been inspired by Ballesteros, Faldo, Lyle, Langer and Woosnam.
A further 11 Europeans – Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Shane Lowry and Jon Rahm - have since gone on to claim majors, while Harrington’s team began this year’s Ryder Cup having won seven of the last nine matches against the United States.
All of that would surely have seemed highly unlikely a few decades ago, before the Famous Five changed everything.