On his knees, in the trees, in a car park or stranded in a bunker 250 yards away, it never mattered to Seve Ballesteros, he'd always find a way out...
Four years ago, while Editor of GolfPunk magazine, I wrote a Top 20 Seve Ballesteros moments in celebration of his 50th birthday. Not yet struck down by the Brain Tumour that would ultimately claim his life, he was, at that time, increasingly reclusive and plagued by back problems. Nine months previous to writing the feature, I had followed Seve around the Royal Liverpool Golf course as he played his first Open since 2001. It turned out to be his last. With the sun blistering my neck and my head fuzzy from warm lager, I chain-smoked my way around inside the ropes and got a full fix of his genius. Yes, his drives were shorter, but they could still trouble cattle, and his short game was imperious as ever. After a nervy bogey on the first, he made five straight pars and, with son Baldomero on the bag, unleashed a vintage back-nine.
After starting with birdies on holes nine and ten, the pain in his back seemed to disappear, his step quickened and he was again at one with club and ball. Carved drives, soaring irons, delicate chips and a handful of clutch putts turned the air sepia, and when he scrambled pars at 17 and 18 the Scouse crowd went bananas.
The original word document of the feature is long gone, trapped in the bowels of a broken Mac, but I managed to find the May 2007 issue, so here’s a few select moments that sum up the genius of the man.
It’s the 72nd and final hole. Needing a birdie to have any chance of winning, Seve hooked his ball so harshly that it landed six-feet away from a wall of the same height. Ignoring the advice of his caddy to take the medicine and chip out sideways, he sized it up, lifted the ball vertically over the wall, under the branches of some overhanging tress and cleared a swimming pool, a row of marquees, two massive trees and a pair of greenside bunkers to find the fringe of the green. He then sauntered up to the dancefloor and chipped in for birdie and second place. Genius.
1983 Ryder Cup
Level with Fuzzy Zoeller after 17 holes, Seve found himself in a fairway bunker, 240 clicks from the flag. With the commentators talking about where he would lay-up, he whipped out his three-wood with a head the size of a crab apple, sized up the 25mph wind and cleaved a 230 yard slice that cleared the lip of the bunker, sailed over the water and landed softly on the fringe of the green. “The greatest shot I ever saw,” Said USA Team Captain, Jack Nicklaus.
Choosing his three-wood, Seve ripped into the ball, it flew through the gap, raised skywards on exit and turned the require 135 degrees before landing 200-odd yards up the fairway
1979 Open, Royal Lytham
On the final day of the Open Seve sliced his drive on the 16th into a car park and came to rest under a car. Unperturbed, he took the free drop, dusted off his sand wedge, and clipped an approach to 15 feet and banged in the birdie to claim his first Major.
1995 Ryder Cup
For all of his notable achievements in the Ryder Cup, it’s a fitting tribute to the place he occupies in our hearts that his heroic singles loss to Tom Lehman – his last act as a Ryder Cup player – has entered legend. Driving the ball like a 24 handicap butcher from Burnley, he didn’t find a single fairway on the front-nine, in fact he only found three all week, yet still had a putt on the 12th to remain all-square. “Take any other professional and put him in the positions where Seve went and I would have hammered him 8&7,” said Lehman after winning 4&3. “I think I learned more from him about tenacity than I did in any other round of my life.”
1989 US Open, Oak Hill
The 600-yard, par-five 13th at Oak Hill is one of the most fearsome in golf if played perfectly, so hooking your ball 40 yards into a forest certainly doesn’t help matters. The only gap he could see was a four by seven foot corridor at an angle of 135 degrees to the fairway. Choosing his three-wood, Seve ripped into the ball, it flew through the gap, raised skywards on exit and turned the require 135 degrees before landing 200-odd yards up the fairway. “I always thought it strange,” said Hale Irwin, “that Seve Ballesteros was more accurate from the trees than from the tee.”
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