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.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I love how he responded to a reporter’s question at the Masters about making a big number — something like an eight: “I mees a three-footer for seven.”
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.
Morfit: Rick, that reminds me of a question I’ve been thinking about: Who in today’s game reminds you most of Seve? It almost seems like Bubba Watson plays a similar type of game, imagining all kinds of audacious shots and then pulling them off, but with Seve’s early success and the otherworldly short game, the comparison I heard most often was between him and Tiger Woods.
Hack: The stock answer is usually Phil, but there was only one Seve. I think Geoff Ogilvy said it best when he compared Seve to Jimi Hendrix. Only one Jimi, too.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: How great is it that last year after Mickelson won the Masters, Seve was so inspired he named his new dog “Phil.”
Van Sickle: The way Seve burst into golf can’t be overstated. Tiger Woods wasn’t a surprise. We saw him coming, we were surprised only by his immediate and utter dominance. Seve was the youngest British Open champ in 86 years when he won in 1979, hitting only nine fairways all week. Nine! That was the week of his famed car-park shot. Americans brought up on Ben Hogan, Nicklaus, fairways and greens, and plodding U.S. Open-style golf weren’t sure what to make of Seve.
There’s no doubt Seve was the Tiger Woods of Europe for his time. The Europeans hadn’t really had a best-in-the-world caliber player since Tony Jacklin, and his run was relatively brief. The eye-opener was the 1980 Masters, where Seve took a 10-shot lead to the back nine on Sunday. It was a no-contest Masters, much like Tiger’s debut in 1997.
Evans: Tiger is definitely the Seve of this generation. Like the Spaniard, Tiger never makes anything look easy: scuffling and fighting, tormented and desperate at times but always in complete control.
Godich: Tiger may not make it look easy these days, but I seem to recall otherwise when he was on his tear.
Lipsey: Nobody reminds me of Seve.
Shipnuck: Tiger. It’s true that in their respective primes Woods had more control of his ball than Seve ever did, but in terms of presence, charisma, duende, it has to be Tiger. And no two players have fought as hard to save a par as Tiger and Seve.
Herre: Yes, Seve just hit a wall and could never recover. He tried every coach and method, but never came close to recapturing what he used to naturally. He’s a cautionary tale for Tiger.
Evans: Herre just gave someone a column idea.
Morfit: It seems like once Seve got lost, he thought he could dig his game out of the dirt with help from Mac O’Grady, among many others, which was never how Ballesteros became Ballesteros in the first place. The struggle lasted a long, long time, and was hard to watch. Peter Jacobsen said, “Seve was probably the most passionate player I’ve ever played with. He was so buoyant and elated when he won, he almost couldn’t control himself; when he was down he was so down.”
Shipnuck: Seve never really recovered from the snipe into the pond at 15 on Masters Sunday in 1986. The funny thing is that his second shot into 13 on that day to set up an eagle was absolutely majestic. On the telecast there was a great side-view close-up on that swing and Phil was talking recently about how as a boy he endlessly replayed the videotape of that one swing, to absorb its rhythm and grace.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: In 1991 I worked as a caddie on the European Tour. A big part of my desire to go there was to see Seve up-close and personal. He was one of my golfing heroes. For the first half of the year, Seve couldn’t find a fairway and couldn’t make a putt and it was dismal. He had a new caddie on his bag, Billy Foster, a young, streetwise Englishman. Billy was young and cocky and in Seve’s face. Now he’s playing the same sort of role for Lee Westwood.
Anyway, at a tournament in Majorca, Spain, Seve had to bounce one out of a pond with a cement bottom on the 36th hole just to make the cut. Seve acted like he was trying to play the shot. Such was the pride of the man. That May, he retired his wooden driver and went to metal. It could not have been easy for him. He retired his Ping Anser in favor of a Tad Moore. That had to be even harder. He took some lessons from David Leadbetter, a technocrat. That must have been hardest of all. But it worked. He turned things around. He lost one event in a seven-hole playoff. The tour was talking about him again. Then, in short order, he won once in Japan and twice in Europe. Magical Seve was back.
I got him alone for a one-on-one after a win in the British Masters in Woburn. Seve said a lot of interesting things, but I’ll share just this. He said, “The moment of victory is nice, but it is not the moment I live for. I am happiest when I am in the hunt for the title — that is the moment of total excitement for me. I am like the gambler. The great moment is not when the roulette wheel has finished spinning, and the gambler knows whether he was won or lost. The great moment comes while the wheel is spinning, and he does not yet know the outcome. That is what I live for.” Fifty-four years is way too short, but look what he got out of them. Sorry for being so long here. Seve captured golf for me and of course for many others as well.
LUCAS GLOVER WINS AT QUAIL HOLLOW
Morfit: We saw some stirring theater at Quail Hollow, and at the Regions, both of which went to overtime. Another South African emerged, this time it was Thomas Aiken winning the Spanish Open and dedicating the win to Seve. What surprised you most about this week? I’ll go with the reemergence of Lucas Glover, who hadn’t made a peep since winning the 2009 U.S. Open.
Gorant: Biggest surprises for me were Tiger saying he’ll play in the Players and Phil’s inability to finish off his Sunday charge. But I’m sure we’ll get back to those two, so, sticking with Glover (who I like to call G-Lover), I’d have to say it’s about time. The guy was never dynamic, but he was steady, which made his disappearance so notable. How did that Clemson team not win the NCAAs?
Bamberger: I’m totally with you on Lucas, Cameron. He’s a such a good guy and his game, I thought, was Nick Watney-solid and I never thought he’d have this long fallow period, but he did. It seems like his comeback was rooted in one good pro-am round. Incredible.
Evans: Glover is definitely the biggest surprise. He’s struggled with his game and he’s separated from his wife. So it’s good to see him in good form.
Morfit: Glover has always struck me as one of the more likeable guys on Tour. He’s a super avid reader, which is rare. He seems like a wise old soul whose been going through some rough times since ’09. As for the golf part, he’s always had that lag action that reminded me of Sergio. And as with Sergio, Lucas had ups and downs with the putter.
Reiterman: For me it’s Kevin Na. Since that 16 in Texas, he’s finished T9 at Hilton Head and now fifth at Quail Hollow. Guy is going to get his first win soon.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Glover was the biggest surprise. He’d been driving home on Fridays quite a bit recently (3 consecutive missed cuts) and we really hadn’t heard much from him since he won the U.S. Open. He’s such a likable, good guy and pretty funny. Nice to see something good happen for him. His short game was tremendous this week. From what I saw walking the last six holes, he hit some pretty ugly tee shots (he said yesterday he was “driving it like a woman”) but he managed to recover every time with brilliant clutch putting.
Hack: Really surprised Rory missed the cut. I actually thought he’d win. Maybe he felt some pressure returning to the states after the Masters, but I expected him to play really well, considering Quail was the site of his 62.
Gorant: Maybe Rory’s head was already back in Europe, since he’s quite famously zipping out ahead of the Players.
Lipsey: Gary Player globe-trotted and won. Nobody else has really been successful jumping multiple time zones on a weekly basis. McIlroy and most other players travel way too much to consistently win.
Walker: Agree with Damon. McIlroy missing the cut after winning at Quail Hollow last year was the biggest surprise. Glover’s return is nice to see, but I can’t decide if the beard is Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover or Civil War re-enactor.
Evans: Civil war re-enactor.
Morfit: David Feherty said he could be on Deadliest Catch.
Bamberger: The beard is a metaphor: the man has been deep in the woods.
RORY SABBATINI’S WILD WEEK
Morfit: Rory Sabbatini finished a shot out of the playoff in a week when many people were talking about his recent run-in with Sean O’Hair in New Orleans, a mid-round disagreement that reportedly nearly got physical. Should we surprised that Sabo played so well at Quail with possible disciplinary action from the Tour hanging over his head?
Gorant: He does seem to thrive on controversy.
Godich: Agree. His winning this week would have been the Tour’s worst nightmare.
Bamberger: We should never be surprised by a Tour player’s ability to block out the noise. You have to be exceedingly self-absorbed to get good enough to play on Tour in the first place.
Gorant: Thought it was interesting that Sabbatini told CBS he wouldn’t talk about the topic and they passed on the interview. How does that work? Those post-round interviews are notoriously softball and every guy on the broadcast has some sort of conflict-of-interest sponsorship deal, but they’re gonna play journalistic hardball with Sabbatini? Are they gonna hire Jim Gray now?
Morfit: I think it was CBS’s way of reminding the viewers and the players that the network expects to commit a little journalism every once in a while, even before the start of 60 Minutes.
Wei: Tour media official asked reporters to keep their questions “golf-related,” otherwise the interview would end immediately.
Evans: Sabbatini is messianic about this slow play business. Mike Walker and I spent a half hour with him in a bar in Palm Springs during the Bob Hope, where he spoke very emotionally, but he was clear-headed about what he sees as a detriment to the future of the tour. Also he’s not the type of guy to back off his convictions for political correctness, even when he’s dead wrong.
Walker: That’s true. Sabbatini is the proverbial “guy you could have a beer with.” I would like to hear his side of the story on this alleged incident with Sean O’Hair. Maybe a Sabbatini win would have shed some light on the Tour’s secret discipline policy, which seems counter-productive. Isn’t the public aspect of punishment the most effective deterrent?
Gorant: Yes, but it doesn’t play well with the corporations that sponsor the Tour because it’s squeaky clean.
Lipsey: From all public reports, Sabbatini appears to have acted like a first-class nitwit and boor. Simple as that. Too bad such behavior seems to be a pattern. A few weeks ago, he said he was remaking himself because he didn’t want his kids to witness such bad sportsmanship. Poof went that vow, or so it seems.
Wei: Slow play is a pain, but Sabo should try to take Perez’s approach. Perez: “I wait every single shot every single day on the PGA Tour, so I’ve gotten really used to doing that. I just kind of walk around and talk and walk around and then when it’s my shot, I’ll move into my stuff. For 10 years it’s taken five hours to play and all everyone does is bitch about it. It never changes.”
TOM LEHMAN WINS WITH A VENGENCE ON CHAMPIONS TOUR
Morfit: Tom Lehman outlasted Peter Senior in a playoff to win the Regions Tradition. It’s his third win this season on the Champions Tour. To me it always felt like Lehman should have won more on the PGA Tour. Does anyone else get the feeling like he’s taking care of unfinished business?
Bamberger: No, not really unfinished business. Just a guy who manages his game very well, hits one shot, much like Mark McCumber or Bruce Lietzke, and doesn’t have a bit of quit in him.
Evans: As I have said in this forum before, Lehman is the best five-time winner in the history of the PGA Tour. But you can’t take care of unfinished business on the Champions Tour. It’s just too different from the regular tour.
Gorant: No, I get the feeling he’s beating up on guys who are old or who won too much on the regular tour to care that much.
Lipsey: Lehman’s having fun and making lots of money. Nothing more. The Champions Tour is not about making reputations or anything like that. It’s a fun gravy train for the players.
Godich: Lehman has always been a grinder. No surprise that he has carried that mentality on to the Champions Tour.
Gorant: Truth is, the seniors had a nice leaderboard going into the last round. Calc, Pernice, Lehman, Kenny Perry. That could have been a decent John Deere Classic two or three years ago.
TIGER WOODS RETURNS FROM LEG INJURY
Morfit: Let’s get to something that we touched on earlier: Tiger. He’s playing the Players this week, or at least he committed. Who else was surprised by that, and what do we expect from him?
Gorant: No expectations really, but always interested to see what will happen with him.
Godich: A spurt of spectacular golf that will have most everybody buzzing about how close he is. And a T-23 that will better reflect the state of his game.
Bamberger: I’m very surprised that he’s playing. I don’t think the Players means much to him and I don’t think he likes it, but he must feel that he can make full-throttled swings or he wouldn’t be in the field.
Evans: I expect Tiger to play well at the Players, but he will not win. He didn’t really want to play in Charlotte. So he took another week of rehab. Had it been a major he would have been in the field.
Wei: I was surprised he committed to the Players since Sawgrass isn’t his favorite course. So I really have no expectations, other than hoping he finishes the tournament.
Godich: We know he’s not playing Colonial or the Nelson, so there’s no way he’s going to sit out for almost two months between starts.
Walker: He’s been conducting golf clinics in Korea, playing ping-pong in China and hitting the blackjack tables with John Mayer in Las Vegas, so the injury wasn’t too painful. Very curious about how he’ll play after the fourth-place finish at the Masters. He really needs this start and the Memorial to prep for the U.S. Open. He’s not 2008 Tiger anymore.
WESTWOOD SNUBS PLAYERS
Morfit: Fill in the blank: The fact that No. 1 Lee Westwood will not play this week’s Players Championship says ______ about the tournament/PGA Tour/state of the game.
Evans: The Players is not a major championship, despite its gigantic, record-breaking purse and super-strong field.
Bamberger: Farrell nails it. Chubby Chandler, who manages McIlroy and Westwood, is not a fan, and I think he influences them significantly.
Walker: There aren’t a dozen sports fans in America who care whether Lee Westwood is playing the Players Championship, but for some reason it lacks that “big event” feeling it should have. The March date was better, but that can’t be the sole reason. Something’s missing, but I don’t know what it is.
Hack: I really think the WGC events have diminished the Players. A lot of these guys — the internationals, anyway — would much rather win a World Golf Championship than the Players.
Morfit: So true, Damon. Martin Kaymer said as much at his press conference at Quail Hollow. It’s ironic that the PGA Tour has hurt its flagship event, the Players, with its own more recent invention, the WGCs.
Lipsey: Too much golf is the problem. People can’t get hyped up more than a few times a year. By the time the Players happens, think of everything that’s happened — Hawaii, West Coast, a couple of WGCs, the Masters, Florida. From here on out, fans, and media probably have enough energy to get amped for the majors and maybe a Ryder Cup. That’s it.
YOUR PLAYERS PREDICTIONS, PLEASE!
Morfit: And finally tonight, your predictions, please. I’m going with Phil Mickelson, just because he seems to be playing well, and he still has work to do to get to 50 wins. Your 2011 Players Championship winner is…
Lipsey: NOT Tiger Woods.
Evans: Jonathan Byrd.
Hack: I like that ball-striking Jesse, Robert Allenby. Just needs a couple of putts to fall.
Walker: Adam Scott, since Tim Clark made TPC Sawgrass safe for long putters last year.
Wei: I’ll go with Adam Scott, too. He’s won there before and now he’s putting well (even though his stats haven’t improved). Also, Luke Donald is another one to watch. TPC Sawgrass will be playing hard and fast and few control their distances better than Donald.
Godich: Rory Sabbatini. The PGA Tour wants good theater? Can’t wait to see Finchem hand Rory the trophy.
Bamberger: Seve. Tim Clark has graciously encouraged the Tour to fly the Spanish flag instead of his own South African flag. Deane Beman, who had an ongoing dispute with Seve, must be amused or something by that move. The Players is everything Seve was not in golf, as artificial as Seve was natural. The legacy of Seve wins this week.