It was a landmark Masters weekend in so many ways, not least for the absence of any golf from Augusta National.
Viewers and participants alike will have to wait a little longer for the 2020 edition due to the Covid-19 pandemic with its new provisional date announced last week as November 9-15 — but today marks the 40th anniversary of a historic, poignant, and significant milestone in the history of Bobby Jones’ invitational tournament.
On this day in 1980, a 23-year-old Spaniard shook up golf’s American dominance of the only Major championship with a permanent home by becoming the first European to don the Green Jacket of a Masters champion.
South African Gary Player had been the only previous non-American victor at Augusta National, in 1961, ’74 and ’78 but — as Ballesteros’ contemporary Ken Brown, now a BBC commentator explained — it was Seve’s 1980 win by four strokes from Gibby Gilbert and Australia’s Jack Newton that had a far-reaching impact on his fellow Europeans.
There have been 13 since 1980, 11 of them in the 19 years that followed that maiden win, including a second victory for Ballesteros in ’83, and three for Nick Faldo, the second of which in 1990 was a back-to-back win for the Englishman.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner last Thursday, the 30th anniversary of Faldo’s feat, and on what would have been the Spaniard’s 63rd birthday, Brown — just three months older than his late friend and four-time Ryder Cup team-mate — described the influence of that 1980 Masters win on the European Tour and its golfers.
“It did an enormous amount for European golf. In fact, probably more than anything at all because Seve was young,
“I’m the same age as him and there were a lot of us born 1957/58, a lot of Major winners born in that year. You wouldn’t believe how many there are (Ballesteros, Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer). And he was the leader of the pack for this up-and-coming young brigade that had got away from being the club pros, and he brought everything that golf needed.
“He was a good-looking bloke, had tremendous charisma, and played with tremendous excitement and vigour.
“He attacked the course and was a ruthless winner, loved winning and, when it came to Augusta, it was a course he just loved, you know, ‘I can win here’. He had this tremendous belief that he was going to win.
“He changed the whole dynamic of the European Tour just when it needed its dynamics revving up. Jacko (Tony Jacklin) winning (the Open) in ’69 was a big boost, but back then there was nothing much to boost, but, by that stage the European Tour was developing, and you could see that if you were a decent player you could make a living at doing it. Then suddenly this chap comes along and adds the glamour. Suddenly sponsors are interested, you know, ‘is Seve playing? Well, we’re in’.
“He was so good for the game here. I don’t think there was anybody better than him on a Pro-Am day, such a genuine interest in whoever he was playing with, and a genuine interest in trying to help them play better golf. He couldn’t help himself, like ‘I can’t see this poor chap suffer any longer’, ‘here’s a couple of tips to see if you can play better’. He had everything.
“And in the wake of Seve’s ship, along came Sandy and Faldo, Woosie and Langer, they were sucked along on his draught and the rest of us were sucked along behind them. So it was an exciting time.
“Nick came along and did what he did, and their legacy runs right the way through to now. The Ryder Cups and all the other bits and pieces, these young lads are following on in the wake of Seve, right at the front of the ship, still dragging them all behind.
“I mean, someone else might have done it, don’t get me wrong, but he was there first.”
Brown, who, aged 21, won the 1978 Irish Open at Portmarnock by beating home favourite John O’Leary and
Ballesteros by a stroke, played in one Masters. That came in 1988 when fellow Scot Lyle won the Green Jacket and he regrets just missing out on a return trip.
“My main memory was just seeing the course, it was absolutely amazing, just how you would dream a course up.
“It was a bit different to how it is now, not necessarily in terms of layout but when Sandy won in ’88, the year I played, the greens used to go a sandy colour. They looked brown, as if they were about to die, parched, hard, and firm. The greens used to absolutely frighten the living daylights out of you whereas now they’re even faster but they’re still green and they can still keep a bit of moisture in them so they don’t go quite so crusty.
“I loved it but had a poor last round (78) and, in those days, the top 25 finishers came back the following year so you didn’t have to play Jack Nicklaus golf to get another go.
“That was my first go and I finished just outside the top 25 [four strokes further back in a tie for 36th] and I never played there again. I would have loved to have done that because I learned so much the first time around but it was an amazing experience.
“When I was playing, only a handful of European players, maximum, got a start and when I got there two or three of those had won the bloody thing so it was a very tough thing to get a go at. But it’s still an incredible event.”