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Ken Brown's school days: Seve's Lytham magic

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Rob Hodgetts | 16:06 UK time, Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Open and iconic moments go hand in hand, and Royal Lytham has had more than its fair share.

The championship returns to the venerable old links for the 11th time this week, but without one of its favourite sons.

It was on the Fylde coast that the legend of Seve Ballesteros was born and later sealed. Sadly, Ballesteros, the only player to have won the Open twice at Lytham, died last May after a battle with a brain tumour.

In 1979, Ballesteros was Europe's brightest young star, having come second in the Open as a 19-year-old three years earlier.

The swashbuckling Spaniard hit the ball to all four corners of Lytham, including that infamous shot from a temporary car park to the right of the 16th in the final round. But he recovered time and again with a combination of iron will, escapology and magic to clinch his first major title. He returned in 1988 to lift a third Claret Jug and a fifth and final major in all to confirm his place among the greats.

BBC golf commentator Ken Brown, a close friend of Ballesteros, had a ringside seat for the first two rounds in 1979. Here, Brown reflects on those days and divulges his idea of the winner:

Ballesteros takes the adulation of the crowd after clinching the 1979 Open Championship. Photo: Getty

"Coming back there this week brings back a lot of happy memories.

"Royal Lytham, for me, is synonymous with Seve and also Tony Jacklin.

"I shall remember how great Seve was there.

"And I'll have fond memories of watching Jacklin win in 1969. He was a big influence on a lot of players and a big boost for those of us coming through, such as Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle. I'll also remember playing in my first Ryder Cup there in 1977.

"I played with Seve and Lee Trevino in the first two rounds in 1979. At that time, from a British golfer's point of view, they were two legends of golf and for me to get drawn with them was very exciting, an absolute joy.

"It was a terrific experience watching Seve bang it all over the place, and I mean all over the place.

"He really wasn't sure where it was going off the tee. He hit one or two straightish ones but more by luck.

"One or two hooks were so wide they missed most of the famous bunkers at Lytham.

"People said he knew where he was aiming but I assure you he had no idea where it was going. He just went and looked for it and hit it again.

"But among all that there was brilliance. He conjured up pars from various different spots with unbelievable guile and short-game skills.

"It was a marvel how poorly he was playing, how bad he was hitting the ball and how well he managed to get around the course. He really grafted.

"It was a real exhibition of how to get the ball around the golf course when you've got no idea where it is going. It was done by sheer guts and belief in yourself. Most players would have gone home after two days, cap in hand.

"Trevino was great, too. He was a hero of mine. He would chitter chatter all day and was always looking for someone to talk to. I always enjoyed his banter. He was a master of keeping the ball in play. He had it under total control, hitting low and high shots.

"Seve and Trevino chatted in Spanish, but Seve was having to fight so hard to keep his own game together there wasn't that much conversation going on from him.

"Until those last four or five holes on Friday we were all about the same, around about level par, before Seve pulled away with a 65. That Friday afternoon set up the title for him.

"It was a defining moment of European golf. As a rising star and a regular member of the European Tour that victory was the catalyst for everyone else.

"The Ryder Cup there in 1977 was, to some extent, a pivotal moment because it was the last featuring Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It was also the last of the old format, with just 10 singles matches, one lot of foursomes and one lot fourballs.

"I played in the fourballs with Mark James and we lost at the last. Mind you, it was a very exciting loss. But to me, the whole thing was massive. I was only 20 and not the greatest golfer in the world and here I was playing in the Ryder Cup. Two-and-a-bit years before I was an assistant pro earning £10 a week.

"When we played Lytham in the 70s and 80s, it was in the top two toughest Open courses. Royal St George's was always tough and Lytham was right there, too.

"Winning scores were never very far under par I don't think they will be this time either.

"It's been toughened up with more bunkers and made narrower, which to some extent makes it more difficult but not necessarily more interesting to play.

"Modern equipment has, to a certain extent, slightly nullified its brutality and stolen a bit of its charm. If you can carry it through the air 280 yards it takes some of the more brutal bunkers out of play.

"What I'd forgotten about Lytham is that because it is so tight there are thin strips of rough beside the fairway and beyond that it is trampled by the crowd. So the motto is, if you're going to miss the fairway, miss the fairway.

"I wouldn't say it is a bombers' course. It is all about tactical nudges - fiddly but nonetheless, quite a challenge.

"Most of all, though, it's very much a short-game course. There are so many bunkers it doesn't matter how good you are or how well you play, you're going to find bunkers, so your sand play has to be on its absolute mettle.

"If ever a course was made for Luke Donald, as long as there is bit of run, this is it. Never has a course been made so perfectly for someone who can thread the ball between its bunkers. He is the best sand player from around the greens, we know he holes out well and chips well and is pretty accurate. And tactically he's very sound.

"So Donald would go in as my favourite, without question. He is tailor-made for Lytham."


  • Comment number 1.

    I think Donald has a decent chance but he has not been on his very best form recently. Westwood and Harrington could also make a good run. This is definitely a course for the straight hitter not the longer one and the course will probably play tougher than it did the last few times the Open was at Lytham. Seve Ballesteros won his last Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 1988 with a score of -11 but it is unlikely to be that low this time, especially with poor weather predicted for Sunday's final round.

  • Comment number 2.

    It's funny how Donald can win enough smaller events to become world no.1, yet doesn't turn up for majors. He's long over-due a big performance in one, so this could be it.

    The blog gives a nice tribute to the legend Seve, someone who was about so much more than winning. People say they're only interested in Tiger for his golf, and so are able to blot out everything else about him.

    Those kind of fans wouldn't have appreciated Seve for what he was.

  • Comment number 3.

    "Donald is tailor made for Lytham"?

    His weakness in wayward driving throws that out the window, just because he "may" be able to dig himself out of some holes with his great short game doesn't mean he will score low, maybe just hang in there. Donald is no Seve but may well have a great tournament if he can keep it straight, but say it is tailor made for him is ridiculous. Gmac for me.

  • Comment number 4.

    I just hope the BBC Commentators/pundits give everyone fair coverage, because I get fed up year on year with what appears to be their love affair with Tiger Woods, even when he isn't in contention (which I sincerely hope he isn't this year) they seem to cover every shot he makes in every round, unlike Seve this guy has no personality, treats crowds as an annoyance, spits and is generally not a nice guy

  • Comment number 5.

    Tiger Woods = Great golfer = Lots of coverage. I would rather watch Tiger than Ross Fisher, Simon Khan, Simon Dyson, Paul Broadhurst etc, especially over the first two rounds.

  • Comment number 6.

    *5 - diesel001
    Very patriotic - aren't we??

  • Comment number 7.

    #6 - Nothing to do with patriotism (or lack of it). I am looking forward to watching Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose etc. as well. These guys are top performers who play consistently well (and their rankings over the last few years show it). When people start saying Simon Khan is a great player and then start trashing Tiger Woods they must be in a dream world.....

  • Comment number 8.

    Great article Ken. Would love to see Donald win it but I don't think he will. He just never seems to have that self belief / confidence to hit the crucial shots needed to win a major. My money's on Harrington - found a bit of form recently and has the game to succeed around Lytham

  • Comment number 9.

    Agreed with 5. Who are those guys anyway?

    I guess Tiger is followed everywhere because the coverage doesn't believe the other top players are worth following. Which seems harsh but that's the way it is.

  • Comment number 10.

    Fact of the matter is, more people want to see Tiger et al, so they bow down to the masses, which you can't really argue with. What is really annoying is when a less popular player is doing really well, they don't switch over to them, how much of Singh's round did we see and he had a storing round and won the tournament!!!

  • Comment number 11.

    #10 - That's because most of the time, that lesser known player bottles it and ends up losing and people could have been watching Tiger instead. Hope the big guns are there at the end on Sunday. Final round pairings involving Woods, McIlroy, Fowler, Rose, Westwood, Donald, Mahan, Scott, Mickelson etc. all chasing victory would be brilliant.

  • Comment number 12.

    In the early rounds it's fair enough obviously to show Woods but as the tournament progresses priority should certainly shift very heavily to those in contention. Coverage shouldn't pander to, and foster and create, a dumbed down audience whose attention spans are limited to what Tiger Woods is up to.

  • Comment number 13.

    The BBC's Open Coverage after the cut does not pander to Woods or any one individual. It always focuses on those who are having a good round and those in contention. The first two rounds do focus on the big guns because the expectation (based on the rankings) is that they should do well so the BBC are just playing the probabilities.

    In any case, I would rather see someone in the Top 30 win the Open than someone like Paul Lawrie, Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis etc. A major win is a great thing and should only be enjoyed by someone who is truly great which has been proven through consistency at the highest level over the years.

  • Comment number 14.

    We're probably fairly safe with the BBC but US coverage events has been so Woods obsessed that the dumbed down point is true to an extraordinary level. No wonder so many moronic roars get heard there after players hitting when they're treated as morons by the tv syndicates.

  • Comment number 15.

    You cannot disregard the thoughts of someone like Ken Brown who knows up close what it takes to win at Lytham and sees the course from a proffesionals eye. If he says it's tailor made for Donald then this has to be his best chance to grab a major. Tailor made or not the issue is he hasn't benn able to recapture last years form.

    Too much Tiger ? Comical. Three tournaments this year, leads the Fed Ex, 14 Majors and the modern legend of the game. I want to see every shot he makes Thursday Friday, alongside the other big guns. Naturally after the cut the focus switches mostly to the leading packs. The BBC cover golf well when they have the time to cover it properly, like this weekend.

  • Comment number 16.

    I was there at Lytham in 1979 - following Trevino, Brown and Ballesteros on day 1. I vividly remember walking down the fairway and the noise of a golf ball wizzing past my right ear - it was Seve's wayward drive. Ended up in thick rough at the bottom of a 15 foot hillock with a blind approach shot to the green. Needless to say Seve used his magic and hit the ball to within 3 feet of the hole. Pure genius.

  • Comment number 17.

    Tiger comes to Britain once a year, damn right we want to see him play as much as possible, he is a legend and the biggest player golf has got.We should enjoy him whilst we can.

  • Comment number 18.

    Tiger is possibly the best player to have played the game - but he is basically NOT a nice person. He's been arrogant all his playng life and is not liked on the tour.

    Quick anecdote - When Tiger was 20 a friend of mine would not serve him a beer in the USA as he was under the permitted age limit of the state at the time.

    "C'mon" said Mr Woods "I'm Tiger, give a beer !!"

    and (no joke) my friend replied

    " I don't care if you are the Lion King mate , you are under age and NOT getting a beer..."


  • Comment number 19.

    Agree with Twitwithnoname. Luke is a good player but he will face issues on many holes before he gets near the greenside bunkers to show his obvious talent.

    A good player will win this, not a surprise journeyman. I personally cannot see past a Tiger a Gmac or a Westy. They cover most facets of the game really well and a couple of missed putts over the 4 days wont be anywhere near as costly as regular visits to the cabbage.

    After the final round last year, I was walking back along the linkland and spotted Bubba with a mate hitting low long irons into the wind on the neighbouring course. Dont see many pro's doing that after a brutal days play. He wants to have a proper bash at this and after watching Dustin first hand (apart from that horrific 3 wood attempt on the Par 5 on the back 9, he has pretty good control in testing conditions. Maybe a bomber like Colsaerts could do it.

    If the weather does what the forecast says, it will quickly firm up and low bullets will be the order of the day. Now let me think, who hits good stingers, has bags of experience and is slowly getting his old putting touch back?

  • Comment number 20.

    I never understand why people seem to think that it is only a decent tournament if a so called big gun wins. Maybe the journeymen should have the good grace to not enter and stop spoiling it for these superstars of golf!
    It is called The Open for a very good is open for qualification and the best golfer over 72 holes wins. I also think that Paul Lawrie deserves a bit more credit for his achievement and for his contribution to the European Tour over a long time.

  • Comment number 21.

    #20 - A tournament can be rubbish even if a big gun wins. However, any major (including the Open) is a big tournament by its nature and therefore deserves a great winner who has shown a high level of performance over a number of years and is high in the rankings.

    Paul Lawrie - fair play to him for winning - but he is not a golfer of legendary status (Woods, Nicklaus, Palmer, Player etc.) nor is he a top class golfer of his generation.

  • Comment number 22.

    @21, Paul Lawrie was one of the weakest winners of all time. Shot one good round of 67 and 3 awful rounds of 73, 74 and 76. Was nowhere near the lead at any stage during his four rounds and needed Van De Veldes triple bogey on the last to win.

    I would say that was a rare occasion where the winner was unworthy of the prize. In most other majors the winner plays the best golf over four rounds and deserves to win.

  • Comment number 23.

    Whoever's good enough to win in the week deserves to win. If you play well enough and handle the pressure, fair do's. I'd agree with '22, that one would want the winner to have been genuinely in the midst of the pressure rather than sneaking in under the radar.
    Anyway a small each way bet from myself on Davis Love at 150/1. Any similar punts - also stuck a little on McIlroy to win - 20/1 seems very generous given what he can do & also since not long ago he went into the Masters at 5 or 6 to 1.

  • Comment number 24.

    @22, Davis Love??? That's like betting on Colin Montgomerie.

    The reason Mcilroy odds are relatively long is because he always moans about how he doesn't like bad weather and wants to play in calm conditions of 80 degrees F.

    I hope he tries to adapt to it this year. If he does he'll have a chance, when his heads right he can be the best golfer in the world.

    I don't know who to bet on; you just can't predict who will win majors these days.

  • Comment number 25.

    It obviously is a long shot - 150/1 ! - but Davis Love was kind of in the shake-up last year and for a period was playing excellent golf. Don't of course expect him to win but 40/1 to come in top 6 seems worth a punt . . . just a slight inner hunch, though "hunch" is a bit too strong.

  • Comment number 26.

    Great article. Living and playing in Lytham, it is always synonymous with Seve. in fact his house was named Royal Lytham and St Annes. However, I will always remember the Monday of the 88 Open. I had been working at the Open but as it had to go into a Monday (spookily because of wet weather) and said I couldn't work the Monday, used my pass and followed Seve, Faldo and Price and watched the great man produce a wonderful 65, capped with the amazing near chip in. Summed up the player and summed up the man = GENIUS

  • Comment number 27.

    Too many patriots on this board, I don't see the winner coming from Woods(too erratic),Westwood(not good enough around the greens),Donald(after watching him last week at Castle Stuart his game is not there),McIlroy(off the boil),Mickelson/Lawrie(watched both at Castle stuart, game not in good enough nick at the moment.

    My e/w picks are Harrington@20/1,Rose@33/1.Furyk@50/1,Jacobsen@80/1,Noren@125/1 and JMSingh@150/1(who showed how to handle bad weather last round at Castle Stuart when others were struggling)!!

  • Comment number 28.

    I thought Donald would have kicked on from last year and moved on to the next level but he hasn't. Atrocious in the first two majors of the year for a world no.1 golfer. I mean he was +10 at some stage at Olympic, that's alright on occasion but he was terrible at the Masters and missed the cut at last year's Open as well.

    He needs to be top 5 minimum with a chance of winning on Sunday and most of all, he needs a good start! Donald plays himself out of too many tournaments with a slow start on Thursday. This is the world no.1 we're talking about, it's time to deliver.

  • Comment number 29.

    I seem to remember that lots of people were moaning as to why golf coverage focuses so much on Tiger. They should be watching now - noone better when he is on song.


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