The king of golf
WHERE do you even begin in paying tribute to someone as great as Severiano Ballesteros? He didn’t dominate golf, he completely and utterly embodied it, inspiring and delighting like no-one else in history.
With a swashbuckling style and sheer ability to do the extraordinary, Ballesteros was different somehow, a maverick, a showman and a statesman for a sport he loved and others called boring.
Ballesteros won’t just be mourned in Spain, but in any country where golf is played, because like no-one else in history Ballesteros was admired for how much he inspired on the golf course, a unique ability to do the impossible setting him apart.
If you saw the tears that flowed at this week’s European Tour event, you understand. Players crying their eyes out for their hero and their leader.
But it’s not just professional players captivated by Seve, not by a long shot. There isn’t a single amateur hacker, like me, who hasn’t smiled to himself after a rare moment of excellence around a green or a challenging shot from a hazard. “Just like Seve,” you’ll say to yourself.
As a child who was obsessed by two things – football and the Ryder Cup – Ballesteros was by far and away the player who fascinated and delighted me.
I knew he was something special, that he’d won majors (three Opens and two Masters), that people talked about him more than most, but I just couldn’t get over how often he found a way to do something extraordinary.
The most I ever have and ever will enjoy watching golf was at the 1995 Ryder Cup at Oak Hill, when Seve led out the European side against Tom Lehman on singles Sunday.
In terms of the player I had studied as a kid, Seve was most certainly on the slide, nowhere near in control of his swing and a liability off the tee. Lehman was at the peak of his powers, he was America’s best player at the time.
Yet for 18 holes Lehman couldn’t dominate Seve, even though the pair of them were essentially playing a different course, Lehman on the fairways and Ballesteros everywhere else.
He holed chips, he curved the ball around trees, he delighted, he inspired, he showed he was one in a million. And yes, he lost. But Europe won and all you saw then was the smile.
As a friend of mine has rightly pointed out, the most fitting tribute for Seve would be a statue in the European Parliament. Because if any man has ever made us proud to be European, it was Seve. When two years later at Valderama he cried as the victorious European captain, all seemed right in the world.
His bravado and style went a long way to making the Ryder Cup what it is today, and it was his historic Masters win that set the stage for the likes of Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal to win majors themselves.
He was golf’s Muhammad Ali. An extraordinary character with a propensity to do things in his sport that mere mortals just couldn’t consider.
You couldn’t possibly do Seve justice by talking about his achievements; he may have won five majors, he won 50 times in Europe and 90 worldwide, but he was way more than tournaments won and everyone in golf knows that.
Seve was special, unique and appealing in a way few sportsmen in a generation can be. He will be remembered and honoured every time a European enjoys major or Ryder Cup glory and every time a novice golfer produces a rare moment of inspired play.
You’ll all have your favourite Seve moments and his passing, aged just 54, is a tragedy for the sport of golf. He’ll never be forgotten, the majestic matador who transcended golf.
The sport has lost a legend.