With news of Seve’s death, a picture of how it all began

May 7, 2011

Hearing that Seve Ballesteros has died, I close my eyes. I see a beach in Northern Spain. On the beach I see a black-haired, barefoot boy playing golf in a dirty T-shirt and jeans.

Legend has it that Seve and his caddie friends played with pebbles instead of golf balls, but I doubt that. A caddie might not have two pesetas to rub together, but he always has a scuffed-up ball or two in his pocket.

I see the black-haired boy in the dunes with the club that one of his brothers has made for him — a 3-iron head attached to a sturdy stick. It is the boy’s only club, so he is learning to hit every kind of shot with it. The high shot. The low shot. The shot that curves.

I have never been to the Bay of Santander, but surely it’s a golfer’s shore of gray beaches and grassy dunes. You don’t take up the ancient game on a soft-sand beach covered with cabanas and sunbathers.

I see the boy scowling over his ball, which is half buried in sand under a cascading clump of marron grass. His black eyes and bushy eyebrows are as expressive as an actor’s, but he isn’t acting. He’s looking beyond the dune to his target, where a smirking opponent waits.

People will marvel at the grown-up Seve’s composure when he finds his ball behind a tree or under a bush. They won’t know how to read his tight-lipped smile. They won’t understand that for Seve, trouble is home.

I see the boy digging his toes into the sand and dipping his right shoulder, lifting his head toward the target once, twice, three times, and then taking a vicious swing, sounding a mighty whump, stumbling backwards under a fan of windblown sand, and his eyes, those glaring black eyes, following the ball as it chugs across the sky, half in sunlight and half in shadow, before landing with a splat a foot from a hand-dug hole. His opponent, an older caddie, drops his club and falls to his knees.

Seve’s weapon will be the dagger, never the sword.

And the boy? The boy I see grinning as he runs out of the dunes. It’s a conquistador’s grin, but one to melt your heart, as well.

Hearing that Seve Ballesteros has died, I open my eyes. I see that the clock has changed from 5:06 to 5:07.