The Reign Of Spain

Seve Ballesteros wins the 1980 Masters
John Iacono/SI
Seve Ballesteros wins the 1980 Masters

This article first appeared in the April 21, 1980 issue of Sports Illustrated

All week long Severiano Ballesteros seemed to be playing a different Masters Tournament from anyone else, including most of the recognizable Americans—unless, of course, you happen to be a close follower of such golfing legends as Jeff Mitchell, Rex Caldwell, Ed Fiori and Gibby Gilbert. These were the competitors we sent out to chase the handsome 23-year-old Spaniard as he went about suggesting that he may be the real Tom Watson. In the end, after the expectable traumas on the back nine holes of the Augusta National course, all they determined was that Gilbert was low American.

Ballesteros started becoming the youngest winner of the Masters on Thursday, when he attacked the premises with a six-under-par 66. That gave him a share of the lead with Australia's David Graham and Jeff Mitchell of the U.S. of A. The young star of global golf continued on Friday when he shot a three-under-par 69 and moved four strokes ahead of the field, his closest pursuers being Graham and Rex Caldwell of the U.S. of A. The next thing Ballesteros did was fire a four-under-par 68 on Saturday, which left him with a seven-stroke lead over Ed Fiori of the U.S. of A.

At this point it was fascinating—or appalling—to contemplate that our own heroes who had been nearest Ballesteros on the scoreboard—Mitchell, Caldwell and Fiori—were all appearing in the Masters for the first time and that among them they held two victories on the PGA tour, a Phoenix Open for Mitchell and a Southern Open for Fiori. It was thus not all that surprising that Gilbert would make the boldest run on Sunday afternoon with a final-round 67, which got him a tie for second place with still another foreigner, Australia's Jack Newton. After all, Gilbert had won the Memphis Classic back in 1976.

Ballesteros had his delicate moments in good old Amen Corner in the heat and shadows of Sunday afternoon when he saw seven strokes of his lead go fluttering away. A lesser golfer might have been stricken. But Ballesteros went back to hitting the wonderful golf shots that had put him where he was in the first place. He steadied himself as suddenly as he had lost his tempo and composure from the 10th green through the 13th hole. He slowed down, got comfortable and nailed a beauty of a tee shot on the 15th. It went more than 300 yards, into the perfect spot to get him easily home in two for a two-putt birdie. It was this steadying birdie that more or less ended the tournament and allowed Ballesteros to come in with an even-par 72 in the final round and a total of 275.

The Masters was Ballesteros' second major championship; he won the British Open last July. Never did he deserve to lose it, for he had simply lapped the field. When he went to the last nine holes on Sunday with a 10-shot lead on everybody, it raised the question of whether the American pros are spending too much time getting rich off their eighth-place finishes. Ballesteros is not only immensely talented, having both length and style, but he is also obviously hungry. Anyone can stumble into one major championship. It takes a rare ability of one kind or another to win two of them.

Ballesteros seems destined to take many more majors. Consider what his game combines: the length of a younger Jack Nicklaus, the boldness of a 1960s Arnold Palmer and the putting touch of a Ben Crenshaw.

There can be no question that Ballesteros has profited from playing golf in places besides Florida and California. In winning such titles as the Dutch, French, Swiss, Japanese, German, Kenya and Scandinavian opens, and proving he can take the big ones against the best the U.S. has to offer, he is a strong argument for the case that international travel not only broadens the mind but improves the grip and the swing.

Ballesteros has a beautiful swing from the setup to beyond the follow-through, and he is so strong that on those occasions when the swing leaves him and his ball winds up in utterly crazy places, he has both the muscle and the instinct to rescue himself.

The swing leaves him less frequently now than it did last summer when he kept trying to drive the ball off the grounds of Royal Lytham and St. Annes but kept finding it and hitting it on the green. He has pulled back some of his length and refuses to take the wild slash every single time, as he once did. But he does still come out of his shoes now and then.

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