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 PETER ALLISS
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Saluting the icon that was Seve
European golf has lost perhaps the most flamboyant character it has known.The author was fortunate enough to have known him from the beginnings

I first saw Seve Ballesteros hit a golf ball ball when he was 16 years old. I had been alerted to his precocious talent by the great Argentinian golfer, Roberto de Vicenzo. He spoke in glowing terms of this young, fearless golfer, who hit the ball a "country mile" and had a superb short game. I listened, for Roberto was a good judge of golfing flesh.

Over the next year or two, I saw Seve once or twice playing in small events and read reports on his progress, but overall it appeared he might flatter to deceive. Then, in 1976, when the sun shone on the UK from March 1 to November 3, the Open Championship was played at a very burnt Royal Birkdale and there he emerged in dramatic fashion. How many times have we read of his exploits over the first couple of rounds but then, when Johnny Miller (who eventually won the championship) was making his charge, Seve began to slip. The sages cried out: "Ah, but he did well for a young fellow." But then he rebounded, hit a good shot or two, a putt was holed when needed, and, suddenly, there he was, coming up the 18th, playing that magical little chip between the two bunkers right up to the pin, a shot shown hundreds of times on TV over the years.

Red, white and blue may not have been a coincidence - Seve always knew how to win over the Brits, here en route to victory in the PGA at Royal St George's in 1983
(Photography by GettyImages.com)

He went on to become a brilliant, mercurial player, blessed with stunning good looks but with a certain self-consciousness and self-doubt which I feel arose from the fact that he was brought up in a golfing community at the 'wrong end' of Spain. All the glamour was on the Costa del Sol but there he was 'up north', where the winters weren't much better than those along the south coast of England.

There had been a number of very good Spanish professionals in the years before - Ramon Soto, Seve's uncle, Jose Maria Canizares, Antonio Garrido and, only a step or two behind, Manuel Pinero. Seve took his flamboyant game to the United States and was successful, but perhaps not as successful as he might have been if he had felt a little happier in that land. At heart he was a country boy, and he never forgot his simple background. At times he fought with authority: if it didn't suit Seve, it wasn't right - that seemed to be his attitude. There wasn't a PGA in the world whom he didn't rile against at some time or other during his magical career.

From early on he was plagued with severe back problems, and although these were brushed over by many, saying he was far too young to have that sort of disability, there's no doubt it affected his play.

He married into one of the richest families in Spain and, although he told me he got on well with his wife's parents, particularly her father, I'm not certain other members of the family approved of the marriage. Many thought he was just a caddie.

He was very careful with money, even tight on occasions, and had many a battle with his caddies' pay over the years. In death, however, most of them said how generous he had been. In the days when players took their own practice balls to golf tournaments, woe betide if his man lost two or three balls on the range. Losing a ball, even in a practice round, was a capital offence.

As prize-money increased, the word spread that generous professionals were giving their caddies as much as 10% if they won. Seve thought that was ridiculous - he'd done 90% of the work. Although I'm not certain what percentage he did pay, I'm sure it wasn't 10%.

He was one of the very few sportsmen whom Mark McCormack did not manage to secure for IMG, and how Mark would have loved to have him in his stable. Although Seve undoubtedly won a fortune anyway, that fortune, even paying Mark McCormack a 15% or 20% commission, could have perhaps been trebled, but he trusted very few. It was all kept in the family, perhaps too much so.

He learned to speak good English, as 99% of foreign players can, something we British don't even consider! I didn't spend a lot of time with Seve, but it was enough to enjoy his sense of humour and boyish fun. He enjoyed boxing and cycling, and was very proud of his possessions and trophies. He kept almost every club he ever played with, along with his various golf bags, to remind him of his life in golf.

Seve's death brought on a wave of euphoria. There were cries to adopt his silhouette as a new logo for the European Tour. These emotions are very understandable and are worthy of discussion, but I don't think people realise that to change everything would cost a fortune. But I do believe that in time it would be possible to have two figures illustrating the growth of the British PGA and the European Tour - Harry Vardon, the iconic figure from a hundred years ago, and Seve Ballesteros, a battling cavalier, who brought joy, laughter and occasional pain, not only to Europeans but to a worldwide audience.

He will be remembered by thousands in many, many way. Lots of summers will pass before we see his like again.

July 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 






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