Had a brain tumor not end his life on May 7 2011, Seve would have been 60 year old this Sunday, April 9.
By: Claudia Mazzucco
Seve Ballesteros was charming, engaging, and self-sufficient, the sort of person you feel comfortable talking to about almost anything. He treated me with great kindness when I met him at the 32nd Ryder Cup in Valderrama, on September 1997. It was my second trip to an international event and I had started to get a sense of how major tournaments were conducted overall.
He visited Buenos Aires to play at the Argentina Masters, in December 1997. During the press conference before the tournament, I’d try to piss him off by asking whether he had ever heard what Irwin said after playing the last round of the 1979 Open Championship with him: “I saw Seve on the first tee and on the 18th green. I don’t know where he was meanwhile.” He said that he saw Irwin at the top of the leaderboard on the first tee, and didn’t know where he went on the 18th green.
His game had rare shadows of doubt and self-mistrust, lit up at moments by intuition of so clear a splendor that the personality he displayed was all but irresistible. But he was a strange admixture of forces. There was supreme self-confidence, as if no one could possibly doubt his sincerity, goodwill, and ability. Yet there was also an extraordinary determination to please, as if he were driven by an inner demon that would not quit until he was liked and admired.
A week before the Open in 1976, he was bailing hay with his father Baldomero in Pedrena. A couple of days before, he was caddying for his brother Manuel, who was trying to qualify for Birkdale at Hillside. Seve’s caddie was a guy named Dick Draper. Dick was a local policeman, who had never caddied for anyone before. Seve led at Birkdale during the first 54 holes.
Seve was the winner of the Open in 1979, 1984 and 1988. He played in eight Ryder Cups, claiming 22 ½ points from 37 matches. He was the first from the continent to claim the Masters Tournament in 1980, a feat he repeated at Augusta three years later.
It was not an uncommon question that other golfers asked Ballesteros: “Were you born with your great “feel’”? He did not really think about how to describe the feeling of the motion of the golf swing. He had too much reason to “listen” very carefully to his body all the time during the swing. He was interested in how golfers – their minds – treat sensory feel for motion. How do we build a swing and maintain it? “What relationship my head, shoulders, arms, hands, hips, legs and feet have to each other,” Seve said. “Once you ingrain the proper preliminaries and get a basic mental picture, then you can tinker with various patterns and combinations of action until you find your swing.”
When he played his first golf tournament at age of 10, he scored a ten at the first hole and finished fifth with a 51 over nine holes. Two years later he was expelled from school.
He turned professional eight days after his 17th birthday, on April 17, 1974. His first professional check was for just £15. I am sure he didn’t make his father feel any better about his choice of a career when he played at the Spanish Open in La Manga. It was his first professional tournament. He shot rounds of 83 and 76 to miss the cut by six. A doctor from Santander named Cesar Campuzano lent Seve $ 1,000 to help finance him through his first year as a pro. Dr. Campuzano had heard how much he wanted to play in the European Tour. Seve paid him back by giving him the ball he won the 1979 Open with.
He was a genuine talent and he had a wonderful career ahead of him. Seve won 87 times worldwide, and after every single victory, the bells of Pedrena church were rung. It was the same Church which also held his funeral. A Spanish ballad which is still sung in Pedrena contains this line: Oh, Severiano, you have left the English and Americans like destroyed eagles.”
Claudia M. Mazzucco is a researcher at Golf Channel and teacher of History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. She is the author of Legendary Lessons (2016), El Golf de los Tiempos, A Novel (2002) and The Guide of Golf Courses in Argentina (2003). She received the PGA Award from the PGA of Argentina in 2005