Every week of the 2011 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
MEMORIES OF SEVE BALLESTEROS
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Greetings, Confidentials, and welcome to a special Seve Ballesteros edition of our weekly roundtable, in which we remember the man who changed golf in Europe and beyond. I admit I never met him, so my memories of Ballesteros are mostly from an oral history Connell Barrett and I compiled for Golf Magazine. There were a lot of good stories that hit the cutting-room floor, one of my favorites of which was from Guy Kinnings, the director of IMG's European golf division. What's your favorite Seve story? Here's one of mine:
Guy Kinnings, director of IMG Golf Europe
We ran a series of golf days all over Europe, and used a number of players for those. Canon sponsored it; they wanted to have the ultimate guest experience. There were younger guys, some senior players, and we used Seve, Bernhard Langer and Monty as our three lead guys. One would take responsibility for driving, one would do mid-irons and one would do the short game. And then they'd always have a local guy. Seve would always do the short game, and it was incredible to watch because it would not be just the guests but also other pros would stop when they could and watch him on his short game. They would dare him and stomp on his ball in the bunker, and he would still do his stuff. He would have been in his late 30s then.
Everybody wanted to meet Seve on those days, and when we'd get to the stage where there would be prize-giving and speeches, he would invariably go AWOL. He'd kind of leave it for Monty and Bernhard. But we'd have to find him, and more often than not he'd be in a back room or the bar hanging out with the greens staff, particularly if we were in Spain. They'd get on so well; those were the people he wanted to hang out with.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Words seem small and pathetically inadequate when it comes to describing Seve Ballesteros. He was bigger than life in all aspects of golf, and in life. The tales of his exploits are legendary stuff but his game was this good: He had the overpowering length of Jack Nicklaus, the go-for-broke mentality of Arnold Palmer, the peerless sand game of Gary Player and the putting touch of Ben Crenshaw. Five major championships? Seve was probably a little disappointed by that total. He easily could've won that many Masters, alone.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: One of my best friend's mothers used to LOVE Seve. He was her mythical Don Juan. She and her husband, a huge golfer, always watched golf on weekend afternoons. To her, Seve WAS golf.
Morfit: That reminds me of another thing Kinnings said of Seve and his popularity in the UK: "He was the housewife's choice."
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I remember most his fluid golf swing even as he went from a long and crooked hitter to a short and crooked one at the end of his career. But what stays with me most is what he symbolized for a game that Nicklaus had made into a tactician's paradise. Seve was wonderfully imperfect a shotmaker's shotmaker who never wavered from his creative and modest beginnings in the game. I first saw him in person at the Masters in the early 90s when the shadows had lengthened on his game, but he was still the most exciting player to watch on the course. He was hopelessly lost, but he never stopped grinding or trying to hit the perfect shot. That was his way. There were more complete players than Seve in his generation Norman and Faldo but no one ever played with more passion than the Spaniard.
Van Sickle: Seve had an odd relationship with the media. At his press conferences, he'd respond to questions with funny little remarks and quips and the whole room would be chuckling. They seemed like good interviews. But when you sat down to write and went through your notes, you discovered that he actually hadn't said anything or answered any of the questions. He did it in such a good-natured way, though. Tiger just stonewalls us he knows he's doing it, we know he's doing it, and he knows we know he's doing it. Seve's most famous quote might have been about how he four-putted once: "I mees, I mees, I mees, I make."
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: I like this Seve quote from a story Sam Torrance tells: "So out he comes a year or so later '77, after that finish at Birkdale in '76 this enigmatic, handsome, dark Spaniard. And he's on the range one day and he farts, and the smell is awful. I've always got on very well with the Spanish players and I'm giving Seve some stick and he says, 'Hey, I eat food, not flowers.'"
Morfit: He was always hip-deep in some crazy adventure, but usually it worked out. Brad Faxon told me this in 2009: "Everybody hoped he would hit it off-line so you could see what he would do next. He could come up with anything. He just looked like the golf club belonged in his hands, in his arms. I think every time he played golf he was wearing navy blue, head to toe. He might have changed it up with a white shirt once in a while, with blue pants. He would have been an easy guy to pack for. His hair was always a little too long, and his right arm always looked like it was a little longer than his left."
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: "El Momento": Final hole of the '84 Open, final green of the world's most iconic golf piece of sod, the Old Course. How many players in the history of the game have the courage to make that putt? Only a few. And then the toreador's passion that poured out of Seve. His entire essence was distilled into one putt, one moment.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I never got to know Seve, but I was in a small group of reporters with him at the Masters one year, under the tree. Seve wasn't playing well and he hadn't for awhile, but he was doing everything in his power to convince himself and us that he would be good shortly. His arms were tan and strong, and I believed him.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: My favorite moment came late in Seve's playing career, when he was well past his prime. Nevertheless, he was chosen to play in the 1995 Ryder Cup and made his first start in the four-ball session in the afternoon of the first day. Seve was paired with a little-known Brit, David Gilford, who was clearly suffering from a case of stage fright. They were matched against Brad Faxon, who had played his way onto the U.S. Team with a brilliant final round at the PGA, and Cup rookie Peter Jacobsen. Anyway, Seve simply could not get off the tee, snap-hooking drive after drive into the woods, taking himself out of the hole and putting tremendous pressure on Gilford. But whenever Seve's ball was in his pocket, which was often, he turned into a cheerleader/coach for Gilford, helping his partner select clubs and reading his putts. Before our eyes, Gilford was transformed from wimp to warrior and almost single-handedly won the match 4&3. I'll never forget Seve and Gilford victoriously walking off the course arm and arm, all smiles, and the look of wonder on Gilford's face. Even when he couldn't play a lick, Seve could summon the magic.
Van Sickle: The Ryder Cup suddenly got exciting when all of Europe was included on the team, not just Great Britain and Ireland. But at the time, it was mainly because Seve started playing. He almost single-handedly leveled the playing field. It was David versus Goliath for the Euros against the U.S. back then and Seve's desire to beat the Americans was unleashed. He'd do anything to win. I forget which American Ryder Cupper dubbed him "the King of Gamesmanship."
Seve precipitated the first live-on-TV, face-to-face call-out at a Ryder Cup at Kiawah when he and Jose Maria Olazabal challenged that Paul Azinger and Chip Beck were violating the one-ball rule by switching to a lower-compression ball on the par 3s on the front nine. Seve waited too long to make the challenge, however they'd already played several holes since it happened and thus there was no penalty. But Zinger and Beck were shaken by the incident and got trounced on the back nine. Seve won. The Americans' ball-switch was retaliation for the Spaniards getting away with breaking two rules in the opening seven holes, notably a lost-ball search where Seve's drive was found 30 seconds after the match official announced that five minutes was up and the Spaniards were allowed to play it, anyway. Even the rules officials were intimidated by Seve.
Morfit: He was so competitive. Here's what Larry Nelson said about beating Ballesteros four times at the 1979 Ryder Cup: "There wasn't much laughing going on when we shook hands before our singles match. Seve was such a competitor. He did not like to be beaten. He was very serious for that last singles match. I think I beat him on 16, 3 and 2. Apparently I was playing fairly well. I think a lot of my wins early in the week had to do with Lanny [Wadkins]. I played with him as a partner four times, so I won all five of my matches."
Van Sickle: Seve was attention-getting, no question, but he wasn't beloved by American fans right away. Fascinated and mesmerized. Until the world got smaller, no foreigners were totally accepted for a long time. Just ask Gary Player. Seve had frequent squabbles with PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman about the minimum-appearance rule for playing the U.S. tour, and complained about the U.S. Open setups. I remember covering the U.S. Open for The Milwaukee Journal and writing a Sunday piece in the first-person voice of Seve's driver, bitching because the USGA's rough was keeping him in the bag and how nobody wants to see the best players in the world hit 2-irons off the tee. Inconceivably, Seve missed the '81 Ryder Cup because the Euros were mad that he played too much in the U.S. He was always controversial.
When you look back, you wonder how people could be so dumb. If Seve wants to play your tour in the U.S., you let him. He actually won some regular tour events here Westchester twice, Greensboro, Houston. But the tour wasn't going to change its rules for him so Seve returned to the European Tour. What a loss for the U.S.
Lipsey: Thinking of Seve reminds me of the utter vacuum we have in golf now. Seve was a genuine superstar in the game an amazing talent and winner and a statesman of the game, like Nicklaus, Norman and Tiger. Nobody playing the game fits that bill now. Some kid is out there who'll become a Seve, Tiger, Norman, etc., and he can't come soon enough.
Gorant: Don't we still have Tiger?
Lipsey: No. He hasn't won in literally years.