Goodbye to Seve, who inspired many, like me
Golf recently lost one of its pioneers with the death of Seve Ballesteros. Ballesteros burst onto the scene in 1976 when he almost won the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, eventually settling for second behind Johnny Miller.
Just three years later, Ballesteros took home the Claret Jug when he marched around Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club, famously making birdie from an area used for parking cars during the tournament. His aggressive and spectacular play was entertaining and fun to watch. He claimed two Masters titles (1980 and 1983), while contending there on many other occasions, most notably in 1986, when he held the lead until the 15th hole, when he dumped his 4-iron approach in the water and eventually lost out to Jack Nicklaus’ final-nine charge.
Ballesteros’ win at the Open Championship in 1984 might have been his greatest, when he holed a putt on the 18th green and then pumped his fist in celebration. It was such an iconic image that he used it as his logo and even had it tattooed on his forearm.
It was 1988 when Ballesteros took home his final major title, again back at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham. That tournament had a very big effect on a young kid from Northern Ireland, who was settling into his first summer in the United States.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I would get up at 5 a.m. to watch the tournament live on ESPN, it was raining sideways, Ballesteros was one of the first players to be shown on the broadcast, and he was wearing a sock-cap with a rain hat on top of it, and a visor on top of that – it was quite a fashion statement.
I remember watching his swing being effortless, his short game sharp, and his confident smile when he holed putts. I was getting ready to take my first golf lesson, from former Sonoma Golf Club professional Ron Blum, and couldn’t think of a better way to start the day. I watched that whole first-round and then went to the golf course on my bicycle and had my lesson, trying to swing the best I could like Ballesteros.
Ballesteros went on to win that tournament on a Monday, playing the final round with Nick Price and Nick Faldo, the crescendo being a near-holed chip shot from off the 18th green. I watched that final round too, then jumped on my bike and rode out to Los Arroyos with my clubs on my back, playing around the nine-hole track two or three times, pretending to be Ballesteros.
See, like Seve, I hit a lot of shots in the trees and other trouble then, and he was far and away the best scrambler. He was truly magical with a club in his hand.
I got to see Ballesteros up close in 1992 at the United States Open at Pebble Beach. His best years were behind him, but he was still a treat to watch. He hit balls on the range next to his friend, and Ryder Cup partner, Jose Maria Olazabal. Olazabal hit his fades on the practice tee, while Ballesteros hit a low draw.
To a 17-year-old aspiring golf-pro, it was poetry in motion. Just two years ago, while playing in a local tournament, I channeled my inner Seve as I attempted to hit a ball from under a tree; testing out my swing from my knees, just as he would have done.
In what might go down as one of the most impressive losses of all time, Ballesteros’ match against Tom Lehman at the 1995 Ryder Cup showed that even when his game was in decline, he could never be counted out.
Lehman was at the top of his game, on his way to being the No. 1 player in the world, while Ballesteros was clearly struggling. It was the Sunday singles match, and the two squared off. Even though Lehman found just about every green and fairway, and Ballesteros spent more time in the trees than Robin Hood, it took Lehman 14 holes to win the match.
Anyone else in the positions Ballesteros was in might not have made it through 10 holes. It is a shame that no one will ever get to witness that again, brain cancer took him at 54.
At his funeral last Wednesday, contemporaries Sir Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam all turned up to pay their respects to the great man, the normally stoic Faldo breaking down when discussing what Seve meant to him and the European Tour.
Gaining some ground is the suggestion that the European PGA Tour’s logo should incorporate Ballesteros’ image. Both Faldo and Montgomerie have backed the idea.
The game of golf will never forget this master, and without doubt, his name will be uttered the next time someone hits their tee-shot into trouble and then escapes with a miraculous shot, “good Seve par.”