May 13, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Odds are, the putt wasn’t going to go in – too far right. But it kept turning left, closer to the hole, right near the edge – and then dropped, for birdie, on the final green of the final round of the 1984 Open Championship on the Old Course at St. Andrews, golf’s ancestral home.
And a young Spaniard of 28 named Severiano Ballesteros, his greatest dream fulfilled, pumped his fist in joy. Then he did it again, to himself, to the fans, to the whole world. Maybe at no other time did golf mean more to any single person than it did to Seve in this, his finest hour.
The news that Ballesteros had lost his long and brave battle with brain cancer, way too soon at age 54, hurts to even type. Golf profoundly changed for the better because of Seve. The man from Pedrena, Spain made this game more European, more emotional, more adventurous – and much more fun to follow.
His roots mirrored those of Lee Trevino, just as self-made and just as improbable. All Seve had, for years as a child, was a hand-me-down three-iron from his older brother. So he went to the beach and practiced, conjuring up any kind of shot within the realm of fertile imagination.
Once he had the skill set, Seve had no time to waste. He turned pro at 17, nearly won the British Open at Birkdale at 19, did prevail at Lytham at 22 and at Augusta National just as he was turning 23. Dozens of more wins would follow.
Of course, it wasn’t just the wins at a precocious age. It was the way he did it – slashing at the drive, finding it
wherever it may lay, slashing at the ball again – and so on until it found the hole, usually in fewer strokes than all his more conventional opponents. Fans could not help but watch – and marvel.
Just as with Arnold Palmer a generation earlier, Seve drew new audiences to golf. Only they were from continental Europe, an area that always scoffed at golf until a handsome, exciting and charismatic Spaniard came along.
At the same time, Seve, almost by himself, personally transformed the Ryder Cup from a sleepy, one-sided American exhibition into golf’s best passion play.
Go back to 1977. Just as Seve is emerging, the Yanks rout Great Britain and Ireland again. Perhaps noticing what the young Seve was doing, Jack Nicklaus helped persuade the British PGA bigwigs to invite the rest of Europe into the Ryder Cup.
Two years later, Seve showed up at the Greenbrier, and soon enough American domination was over. When Seve and the young Jose Maria Olazabal formed the “Spanish Armada”, it made for the Ryder Cup’s most intimidating team. And Seve’s impact brought a Ryder Cup to Spain in 1997, and at Valderrama Seve, as captain, was everywhere, willing his underdogs to another inspiring win.
No one wanted to win the Ryder Cup more than Seve, who craved match play and loved sticking it to the Yanks, even if it involved gamesmanship, which didn’t win him friends in the States.
Little wonder that, when Nicklaus made his famous charge in the final round at Augusta in 1986, normally staid Masters patrons cheered when Seve, still leading at the time, hooked his approach at 15 into the pond. You could argue that he was never the same after that day, though a third British Open title would be earned two years later.
Like so many geniuses, Seve left the scene too soon, never winning a major after the age of 31. The latter phase of his career was painful to view, but at least he lived long enough to see his complete impact
Without the Ryder Cup’s revival, there’s no President’s Cup or Solheim Cup. You never get golfers from Germany, Sweden, Denmark, France or Italy making an impact on the world scene, not to mention Olazabal, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Sergio Garcia and other top Spaniards following in their idol’s footsteps.
Heck, you could argue that Seve raised the entire profile of Spanish sports, to the point where now Rafael Nadal rules in tennis and, in soccer, Spaniards own both the World Cup and European crowns
Seve conquered everything – except brain cancer. Ever the charismatic lead, he even timed his departure for the week of the Spanish Open, and just after his prot g , Olazabal, got the nod to captain Europe’s Ryder Cup team for 2012. Think that will be emotional?
So we mourn that Seve Ballesteros has left us. We smile through tears and reminisce about the ridiculous shots he pulled off from parking lots and forests and even while on his knees. And we thank him for giving golf a global flair and making us all realize that, no matter where we start, we can still make it to the end, and will that putt into the hole.