No golfer has epitomized the spirit of European golf like Severiano Ballesteros. The native of Spain did for European golf what Arnold Palmer did for golf in America.
Since turning professional in 1975, golf’s ultimate competitor has truly represented golf’s global appeal by spearheading Europe’s rise to Ryder Cup glory.
Ballesteros played on a rare combination of talent and heart. His intensity and style of play have constantly required high-risk recoveries and clutch putting that drew fans into his corner. His gifts of imagination, touch and determination on the course helped Ballesteros win more than 70 professional tournaments, including five majors.
Two decades before Tiger Woods exploded onto the scene as a professional, Seve Ballesteros was golf’s teenage prodigy, dazzling the golf world with a runner-up finish at The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale as a 19-year-old.
"I knew at the time I won the Open in 1988 that I had reached some sort of peak, that it was a round of golf that I would think fondly about for the rest of my life."
Ballesteros made emotion and a brilliant short game his best allies on the golf course. His magical touch derives from years of practice. As a boy, he developed his natural motion by hitting rocks on the beaches of Pedrena with a homemade 3-iron. In his prime, nobody was better at scrambling to manufacture low scores. Ballesteros won the Harry Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average on the European PGA Tour six times by erasing mistakes with his short game. Who can ever forget his famous birdie from the car-park in the 1979 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes? Ballesteros became the first European to win the championship since Frenchman Arnaud Massy took the title at Royal Liverpool in 1907 and his victory confirmed the emergence of a wealth of European talent.
Ballesteros was at his erratic best in the final round of the 1988 Open again at Royal Lytham & St Annes, shooting a 65 that included an 11-hole stretch in which he made two pars, two bogeys, six birdies and an eagle. He worked magic out of the deep rough and performed wizardry around the green.
Ultimately, he closed out Nick Price with a brilliant chip from behind the 18th green that finished inches from the cup. Of that glorious round, which he counts as perhaps the finest putting performance of his career, Ballesteros remarked, “I knew at the time I won the Open in 1988 that I had reached some sort of peak, that it was a round of golf that I would think fondly about for the rest of my life.”
Seve Ballesteros teamed with Manuel Pinero in 1976 to win Spain its first World Cup.
While his individual record is exemplary, Ballesteros’ legacy will be for pushing golf onto a world stage by moving it onto the European continent and by making the Ryder Cup competitive. He was the heart and soul of the European team as an eight-time member and one-time captain. In 1987, the Ryder Cup gained prominence when the Europeans came to America and, for the first time, won on American soil.
Seve’s tenacity, fearlessness and fanatical desire to succeed helped make him one of the greatest match players of all time. When Valderrama Golf Club on Spain’s Costa del Sol was selected to host the 1997 Ryder Cup Matches-the first time for a mainland Europe venue-Ballesteros was the prime force. He was also the logical choice to captain the team. Even in this non-playing role, Ballesteros’ competitive fire was still the heart and soul of the victorious European team.
While his star has faded in recent years, Ballesteros will always be remembered as one of the most gifted golfers ever to play the game.
Lee Trevino may have put it best when he said of the Spaniard, “Every generation or so there emerges a golfer who is a little bit better than anybody else. I believe Ballesteros is one of them. On a golf course he’s got everything. I mean everything: touch, power, know-how, courage and charisma.”