BBC BLOGS - Iain Carter
« Previous | Main | Next »

We were privileged to have watched Seve

Post categories:

Iain Carter | 08:01 UK time, Saturday, 7 May 2011

His jaw clenched, teeth gritted, his thick dark hair pulled unruly by the teasing breeze, straw sent flying by a savage hack as the ball embarked on an improbable journey towards the green.

No one forgets the first time they saw Severiano Ballesteros play golf. That scene remains etched in my mind even though it came from one of the great Spaniard's less memorable Opens, the 1982 Championship at Royal Troon.

Nevertheless, this was a period when Seve was at the height of his powers. That year he had finished third at the Masters, the tournament he had won in 1980 to become the first European to triumph at Augusta, and at Troon he attracted vast galleries.

We all craned out necks to see the magic of Ballesteros, but in truth there wasn't much on offer, merely his famed will, which on this occasion was enough to allow him to card a rather undistinguished second-round 75.


Seve Ballesteros

Seve plays a typically daring recovery shot from deep rough at the Open

We still felt privileged to have borne witness to this round. There was an aura about the man even when things weren't quite going to plan. The ferocity of his competitive edge was there for all to see - an indomitable spirit that characterised his golf throughout his career.

There were so many defining characteristics, especially when he was in his pomp. Ballesteros brought a dashing athleticism to a game that at the time was rarely associated with such qualities.

Lost causes did not exist. If his ball was in play it could be played and his imagination and flair would rescue the most unpromising positions.

One of his legion of caddies, Billy Foster - now the bagman for another world number one Lee Westwood - delights in telling tales of trying to talk his boss out of seemingly impossible shots.

Most notable was the one at the eighteenth at Crans-sur-Sierre where a last ditch birdie blitz seemed to have come to nothing when Ballesteros put his tee shot behind the wall of a swimming pool down the right of the closing hole.

Only Seve could see a way through to the green. Foster, envisaging the probability of a pay cheque diminishing in value rapidly, pleaded with Ballesteros to play the percentages and hit out sideways. The player had no such thoughts and threaded a magical shot to the front edge of the green.

Such talent brought 87 titles - three of them Opens, two Masters - and Ballesteros radically altered the golfing landscape across the world.

He was significant enough a figure to take on the PGA Tour in the United States and at home he would feud with the European Tour to the extent that he was excluded from the 1981 Ryder Cup team.

When Tony Jacklin took over the captaincy for the match two years later his first task was to make sure Seve would be part of his European team. That job completed, Ballesteros was left to cajole his rookie partner Paul Way to claim two and half points out of four as Europe very nearly pulled off a historic victory.

That match hinted at the massive role the Spaniard would play in inspiring Europe to become the dominant Ryder Cup force. In 1987 he began his talismanic partnership with Jose Maria Olazabal and they won all bar one of their four matches together at Muirfield Village as Europe triumphed on American soil for the first time.

A year later Seve won his final major - the Open at Royal Lytham, the venue of his first major triumph in 1979. All of his trademark charisma again came to the fore in that celebrated triumph - the British crowds had long since regarded him as one of their own.

But Seve's popularity spread far and wide. He was Europe's equivalent of Arnold Palmer - both men made golf so much more sexy and appealing.

It was fitting that Phil Mickelson chose Spanish food to honour Seve's contribution to the game at the Champions' Dinner at the Masters this year.

"At 17 he was the guy I wanted to play with," Mickelson said. "I got into my first PGA Tour event, the San Diego Open, and was able to get a practice round with him.

"Here is a guy I looked up to as a kid, watched the way he played and loved the way he played and was drawn in by his charisma and he didn't let me down at all. He was every bit the gentleman I thought he was."

Long after Ballesteros had ceased to become a contender in tournaments he still competed with passion and drive, desperate to rediscover the form that had taken him to the top of the golfing world.

At times it was sad to see him struggle, but the fans never lost their affection for this great champion.

Ask me for my favourite Seve moments and I could tell you of his famous fist-pump upon winning the 1984 Open at St Andrews or holing for birdie at the 16th after playing from the car park for his first Claret Jug at Lytham five years earlier.

There are so many moments, but it is almost the ordinary ones that stick out more. I particularly remember the Benson and Hedges event at the Belfry in 2003, which was another week in the latter part of his career in which he teed off hoping, rather than expecting, not to win but just to make the cut.

Younger players, no doubt made wealthier because of the way Seve had made the game so attractive to sponsors, were dominating the leaderboard on a pretty humdrum day. Suddenly, late on, there was an explosion of applause and we heard the loudest cheers of the round.

The noise was not for the leaders. It was just that the Spanish hero had found the closing green and was making his way to the putting surface, treading wearily but flashing his brilliant smile and waving to acknowledge the adulation being sent his way.

That's how it was with Seve - an astonishing man, capable of extraordinary, historic golfing deeds but who made otherwise ordinary moments somehow magically memorable as well.

Error: Too many requests have been made during a short time period so you have been blocked.

More from this blog...

Topical posts on this blog

This information is temporarily unavailable.

Categories

These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

Latest contributors

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.