In his heyday Seve Ballesteros would periodically give us Statesiders a chance to know him. Never amounted to much. He'd play our windless courses and eat our dull food and retreat quickly to his home in Spain and to his tour in Europe, where he was king.
Now Ballesteros is returning to our shores, not to give us a chance but to give himself one.
On the Monday after the Masters he turned 50, and this week he's scheduled to play in a Champions tour event called the Regions Charity Classic in Birmingham. He plans to play the Champions tour regularly for the rest of the season, but don't expect too much. At Augusta this year where he entered for the first time after a three-year selfimposed exile he shot rounds of 86 and 80 and missed the cut by 14 shots. Hank Haney observed recently that Seve has the full-swing yips.
Of course, the senior circuit has no cut, and the RTJ Golf Trail at Ross Bridge is not Augusta. Still. . . . He can't go out this way, struggling to break 80. He looks great, but he's an old 50. He was a pro at 16, he was winning at 19, and at 40 he was weary. Fred Funk was young at 40, and now Seve, a Hall of Famer, can't beat him.
Seve's here because there's nowhere else for him to go. He's so mad at the European tour for various slights, insults, penalties and fines over the years that he won't play the European senior tour. So there he'll be next week, chasing Dr. Dirt (Brad Bryant), last year's winner of the Birmingham event. Seve's not coming here to hang out. Chip Beck, Tom Purtzer, Bobby Wadkins these are not his people.
He's coming here to make a score. Can you find your game at 50? Not likely. But Seve's life, more than most, is rooted in optimism his many escape shots the proof of it. If you came to golf in the Tiger years, it would be hard for you to understand how thrilling Seve was through the Thatcher/Reagan years.
He was nothing like Woods, who is technically superior, but Seve had it all over Tiger in one area: style. Seve looked as if he was winning on will alone. Tiger beats you because he's better in every regard.
Seve at Augusta in 1980 and '83, at the British Open in '79, '84 and '88, in all of his Ryder Cups (the three events that matter in Europe) looked as if he wanted it more than anyone else.
Rules officials quaked in Seve's presence because he craved the questionable drop more than they dared to stand up to him. Many American golf watchers never really got him, and nothing will change now. The stakes are too low.
It was a nice moment when Jerry Pate, sober and God-loving, won the senior event in Tampa last year, but that was mostly a personal victory.
What fans remember is brash Jerry Pate winning that U.S. Open in '76, making that swing at the end, five-iron in his hands, the whole world watching. That's what makes a golfer a legend. Seve's a true legend. Nobody ever talked about Seve's swing coaches. We saw the swings he made, and that was enough for us. But as this fresh start indicates, not enough for him.