Lewine Mair recalls the brilliance of Seve Ballesteros, the most charismatic and arguably most influential European golfer of all time
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Open Champion: Seve celebrates holing the winning putt at St Andrews in 1984 24
HK Golfer・JUN 2011
t was prior to the 2010 Open Championship at St Andrews that Seve Ballesteros did an interview with the BBC’s Peter Alliss, during the course of which he quoted his old friend, Roberto De Vicenzo, the great Argentinean player who won the Open Championship in 1967. Ballesteros, whose own sentences had often been as original as his shot-making, had revelled in the way Vicenzo couched his advice. “You have good times and bad times” Vicenzo told him, “and when the bad times arrive, you put up your umbrella and wait for the rain to stop.” For two and a half years following that fateful day when he collapsed at Madrid's Barajas airport and was diagnosed with a brain tumour until his death last month, Seve's umbrella was firmly up. He had been staying indoors at his home in the pretty northern Spanish village of Pedrena and had not ventured out other than for his latest chemotherapy treatments. In all, he had four operations, with the last of them involving a draining of fluid from the brain. So many incursions took their toll but this great champion was better than most had anticipated when he gave his first public utterances at the beginning of May 2009 following initial surgery. “I have had a lot of luck,” he said of his then state of health. “I’m alive, I can do things, I can speak, I can reason.” Among the ‘things’ he undertook was to become the patron of the Spanish Ryder Cup bid for 2018, laying out his views on what a successful bid would mean to his country. Yet the Spanish hierarchy did not push for anything in the way of a regular statement from their country’s golfing hero. As time wore on, the last thing they wanted was for people to accuse them of using Ballesteros’s illness as their trump card. Mind you, they probably never needed to do such a thing in the first place. To no small extent, Seve Ballesteros was Spanish golf. It was mostly down to him that Spain has become such a force in the golfing world – and mostly down to him that golf captured the imagination of so many youngsters in the 1970s and 1980s. Not just in Europe but all over the world. When Phil Mickelson opted for a Spanish menu at his Champions’ dinner at this year’s Masters, it had nothing to do with the fact that Seve had called his dog "Phil Mickelson" after the canine version had made its boisterous arrival a day or so after the American won his second Masters. Instead, it was out of deference to the effect the Spaniard had had on his career. HKGOLFER.COM
HK Golfer・JUN 2011
"Just being back at Augusta reminds me of when I was tenyears-old and watching Seve win in 1980" – Phil Mickelson
he had that putt at the eighteenth which, with a lovely touch of theatre, took forever to subside. But arguably the most famous moment of the lot was his shot from the car park in the 1979 Open at Lytham. On a day when he used his driver nine times but hit only one fairway, he had knocked his tee-shot at the sixteenth under a blue car – and somehow qualified for a free drop which paved the way for a birdie and a three-shot win over Jack Nicklaus. Not everyone approved but Seve deflated the critics with much the same touch of mischief that fuelled his more logic-defying shots. To his way of thinking, it was less a matter of his ball being in the wrong place than the cars. “But then,” he mused, “I suppose they’ve got to park them somewhere.” When the dashing Spaniard captained the European Ryder Cup side of 1997, he was at his incorrigible best. Though he purported to have faith in his men, he could not begin to hide the fact that he would sooner have played all the more difficult shots himself. There was a typical instance as Colin Montgomerie and Langer arrived on the last tee with a one-hole lead against Jim Furyk and Lee Janzen. Montgomerie hit into the trees on the right and, when he and Langer arrived at the ball, they found their captain lurking in the shadows and assessing the situation, first from one angle and then from another. He began to explain to Langer how he could hit under this branch and around that tree trunk but, as he
Though there had been times when he had pointed an accusing finger at the golf-writing corps, saying that they had put too much pressure on him, he had no complaints that day. Instead, he thanked them for writing fine stories and giving him headlines all over the world. “I thank you,” he said, “for making me look big.” He wanted his audience to know that he felt he had made a mistake in giving his teenage years so wholly over to golf, while he also said he was sorry for “the odd spot of bother” he had caused along the way. It was so disarmingly done that you had the feeling that if Jose Maria Zamora had been in the room, he would have forgiven him at once. Zamora was the referee on whom Ballesteros had launched a physical attack three years before because of what he saw as a couple of unfair warnings for slow-play. Seve had been similarly forthcoming on the subject of his illness, never sparing his interviewers the grim truth of what he was facing. Prior to last year’s Open at St Andrews, his favourite golfing place on earth, he described himself as having arrived “at the twelfth hole ... There is always a beginning and an end and this is the difficult thing when you see the end coming.”
"I would like to see a major championship played some day with no fairways. I would have a very good chance to win" – Seve Ballesteros
Ryder Record: Captain Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie at the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama; never one to shy away (above), Seve and partner Jose Maria Olazabal give their side of a dispute with Paul Azinger and Chip Beck during the 1991 match at Kiawah Island (right)
“Just being back at Augusta,” said Mickelson, “reminds me of when I was ten-years-old and watching Seve win in 1980. That was when I said to my mum, 'I want to be like that and I want to win that tournament.'" Ballesteros, of course, won three Open and two Masters titles between 1979 and 1988, all of which furnished him with a rich seam of upbeat thoughts as he neared the end of his life. “Thank God,” he said earlier this year, “that I have lots of positive things to ponder.” He chuckled even at his reputation for being able to win “from places where it was impossible.” Sometimes, as he would approach his drive in some far-flung outpost – such for example, as behind an out-of-the-way wall on the eighteenth at Crans-sur-Sierre in 1993 – he would revel in hearing people say, ‘Which way is he going to go…This way or that way?’ On that afternoon in Switzerland, he invented a shot which arrived at the entrance to the green to pave the way for an improbable birdie. It wasn't quite enough to win but it is widely considered the most outrageous escape in European Tour history. Most of his favourite moments, it has to be said, coincided with the favourite “Seve moments” of others ... In the 1983 Masters, there was that little chip he holed from the back of the final green to tie up that year’s championship after having duffed the shot at his first attempt. In the following year’s Open at St Andrews,
looked across to Montgomerie for support, so Langer seized the chance to chop out sideways. Following the Ryder Cup, Ballesteros said he had plans to resurrect his own golfing career. It was a tall order and, as things turned out, his play became ever more erratic and with it his personal life. He and his wife, Carmen, parted company though, in fairness to Seve, it can never have been easy marrying into a banking family whose idea of a high flier had nothing to do with a wedge struck from the rough. A lon g not to o d i ssi m i la r l i ne s , t he aristocrats who still hold sway in pockets of Spanish golf took a long time to embrace their champion. Ballesteros already had a couple of majors under his belt when he was up at the Pedrena Golf Club one day and a couple of regulars asked what he was doing in the lockerroom. "You’re not a member are you?” they chorused. By all accounts, the incident cut the player to the quick. It was in the year before he was taken ill, at a press conference on the eve of the 2007 Open at Carnoustie, that Ballesteros opened his heart to the UK press and public, both of whom had embraced him from the first moment he arrived on British shores.
HK Golfer・JUN 2011
HK Golfer・JUN 2011
When the dashing Spaniard captained the European Ryder Cup side of 1997, he was at his incorrigible best. Though he purported to have faith in his men, he could not begin to hide the fact that he would sooner have played all the more difficult shots himself.
Happy Days: Seve with fellow Open champions Gary Player, Tony Jacklin and Lee Trevino pose on the Swilcan Bridge at St Andrews (left); sharing a laugh with World Match Play champion Ernie Els at Wentworth in 2003
Seve in Hong Kong bushes. A penalty drop, a couple of swipes from the jungle, a pitch and two putts later the grand master was marking down a triple bogey eight. To Dom Boulet, the Hong Kong professional and TV commentator who played on the Asian Tour during the 1990s, Seve was simply the greatest. "He was my idol, no question about that," says Boulet, a two-time HKPGA champion. "I remember playing in a tournament in Japan and our lockers were side by side. I was nervous just putting on my spikes in his presence. "Seve really was different. At the 1991 Johnnie Walker Classic in Bangkok I was in the players' lounge and Greg Norman walked in. A few of us Asian Tour pros were like, 'oh look, there's Norman'. But when Seve walked in everyone stopped what they were doing and stared. That was the aura he had. That's what made him so special."– Alex Jenkins
In the rough: Seve at Clearwater Bay
He also mentioned the loneliness that goes hand in hand with being confined to home. His children, though they are based in Madrid, came to visit and so did his brothers. For the most part, though, he was on his own, with dark winter evenings asking the most difficult questions. “So tough,” he said, simply. Yet on almost every occasion that he has felt that he might be sounding just too morose, he did something to save the situation. For example, when he told Ken Brown of Ryder Cup and now commentary fame, that he could no longer drive his Lamborghini or his Ferrari because he had lost seventy-five per cent of the vision in his left eye, he seized the moment to use TV as a medium for selling the vehicles. “If anyone has some spare sterling and would like to buy one or the other, come and see me in Pedrena,” he advised cheerfully. Seve would get away with anything – and everything – simply because of who he was. Namely, to use Gary Player’s words, “the most charismatic man ever to play the game”. Even the caddies, to whom he has given plenty in the way of abuse across the years, vie with one another to tell proudly of their experiences at the Spaniard’s hands. “It’s not your fault,” Seve once said to the fellow who had just handed over a wrong club. “It’s my fault. It’s my fault for listening to you." Peter Coleman, a member of the Caddies’ Hall of Fame, will never forget that occasion when Seve advised, “You’re the worst caddie in the world.” “I know,” returned Coleman. “ How do you k now?” prob e d S eve , menacingly. “Because you told me yesterday,” said the caddie.
The Ballesteros File BORN: April 9, 1957 TURNED PRO: 1974, aged 16 EUROPEAN TOUR ORDER OF MERIT WINNER: 1976, 1977, 1978, 1986, 1988, 1991 EUROPEAN TOUR PLAYER OF THE YEAR: 1986, 1988, 1991 INDUCTED INTO THE WORLD GOLF HALL OF FAME: 1999 PROFESSIONAL VICTORIES: 91 FIRST VICTORY: 1976 Dutch Open LAST VICTORY: 1995 Spanish Open RETIRED: 2007 DIED: May 7, 2011 Won five majors (The Masters in 1980 and '83; The Open Championship in 1979, '84 and '88). In those five victories, he trailed after 54 holes four times. He peaked at the other majors with a third-place finish in the 1987 US Open and a fifth-place finish at the 1984 PGA Championship. From 1980-87, he had a brilliant run at Augusta, with two victories, two second places, a tie for third and a fourth-place finish (plus two missed cuts). His first win at Augusta made him the first European and youngest player to win there. Tiger Woods displaced Ballesteros as the youngest winner in 1997. From 1986-89 Seve had five stints as the number one player in the Official World Golf Ranking. He was ranked number one for a total of 61 weeks.
Ballesteros played in three Hong Kong tournaments – all during the latter stages of his career – but the SAR didn't prove to be a happy hunting ground for the swashbuckling Spaniard. His Hong Kong debut came at the 1993 Kent Hong Kong Open at Fanling, where he finished some way behind eventual winner David Frost. Dr Brian Choa, chairman of rules for the Hong Kong Golf Association, witnessed the occasion. "He was hitting the ball beautifully on the range but struggled on the course," Choa remembers. On the second day, Seve came to his last hole – the tenth of the Composite Course – needing a birdie to make the cut. He hit his approach to around fifteen feet and then canned the putt to do it. I was impressed with his determination to make it to the weekend instead of just running away." Seve's second appearance at the Hong Kong Golf club followed three years later at the Alfred Dunhill Masters. Once again, he failed to light up the Composite Course, ending the event some distance behind the champion, fellow tournament drawcard Bernhard Langer. But Grant Dodd, a former tour pro from Australia who played a practice round with the five-time major champion earlier in the week, has fond memories of the experience. "It was an ignominious introduction," Dodd explains on his blog. "I became so entranced by a conversation with the great man on the sixth hole that I forgot my golf clubs, leaving them 250 metres behind on the tee. "Embarrassing moments aside, what I remember most was a bunker shot played on the ninth hole. Seve had short sided himself, on the downslope of the greenside trap, pitching to a tight pin with the green sloping away from him, out of grainy, stony sand where the ball sat down. "I'm not sure that I could have kept it on the green. Needless to say, I was more than interested to watch what he could conjure up out of his mythical bag of tricks. "He made a pass at it like Tiger teeing off with a driver on a parfive. The ball came out in slow motion, seemingly on time delay, spinning like a whirling dervish. It landed a foot over the lip, took once bounce and stopped on a dime six inches from the hole. "I turned to playing partner Peter Lonard, and appreciative, raised eyebrows met simultaneously. Words were unnecessary. From such moments legends are born. In this instance Seve's was merely further entrenched, laser-etched into the cortex for perpetuity." Ballesteros' last appearance in Hong Kong came at the 2000 Star Alliance Open, which was played in wet and windy conditions at Clearwater Bay. The then 43-year-old claimed he enjoyed the picturesque layout enormously but his game wasn't firing on all cylinders and he finished on a total of three-over-par 283, fifteen shots behind Arjun Atwal, who captured his third Asian Tour title. Indeed, the last hole Seve played in Hong Kong was one to well and truly forget. After hitting a decent drive down the fairway of this sweeping par-five, Ballesteros fanned a four-iron way right into
HK Golfer・JUN 2011
HK Golfer・JUN 2011