Seve Ballesteros, a true genius
For all the hundreds of thousands of words that will be written about the late Seve Ballesteros this weekend, few will come close to serving any sort of justice to one of the most remarkable and charismatic sporting icons of this, or any, era. The term genius is bandied about far too often in sports writing. Seve, as he became simply known to millions of adoring fans, was one of a select few to earn the title.
Outrageously gifted, and with a burning desire to win to match those gifts, Seve was unquestionably the greatest European golfer to have graced the game. Even before his first Major title, the Spaniard had made a name for himself as special talent. But it would be the 1979 British Open, where he picked up the first of three titles on the links, that would force the world to sit up and take notice.
Here was a swashbuckling player who refused to take the easy option, for whom chipping out sideways was anathema. And his magical birdie at the 16th, where his wild drive came to rest in a car park, would immediately go down in folklore.
Less than 12 months later, the ‘Car Park’ champion had conquered America. Leading the US Masters by 10 shots with nine to play, Seve wobbled briefly but his unwavering self belief was always going to see him home. His triumph in the 1983 US Masters, where he reached the 18th green with the cushion of a four stroke lead, may have been less dramatic. But Seve was always capable of delivering the wow-factor, and would birdie from behind the green as he collected his second green jacket.
A second British Open would follow in 1984, and while his final round at the same championship in 1988 was all the more spectacular, this was the win of which he remained the most proud. The 155-foot birdie at the last was hardly his most impressive feat on the course, but Seve’s celebration was one for the ages.
His name would be added to the Claret Jug for a third time at Lytham, where Nick Price was put to the sword be ‘El Matador’.
For all his brilliance as an individual, Seve’s career would also be defined by the Ryder Cup and the team environment in which he thrived. Seve relished match play, his game ideally suited to the duel and would take great pleasure in getting under the skin of his American opponents. “I look into their eyes, shake their hand, pat their back, and wish them luck. But I am thinking, ‘I am going to bury you,’” he would observe.
While he enjoyed the occasional spat with the likes of Paul Azinger, who described him as the “toughest, most passionate, most patriotic competitor I’ve ever faced” today, it was the sheer joy of victory that drove Seve on. He breathed new life into an ailing event as a player before going on to successfully skipper the side in 1997 on home soil in Valderrama.
His driving became ever more erratic later in his career, but he never lost that will to win and it was only his failing health that forced him to retire in 2007. Having battled to recover from a brain tumour since 2008, he finally lost that fight in the early hours of this morning. He will be sadly missed.